Review: Carmen La Cubana at Sadler's Wells
There’s no two ways about it: Cuba is a very sexy place.
And it makes for very sexy musicals – especially when it’s combined with the sexiest opera of all time, Carmen.
I know what you’re thinking – would we really call opera “sexy”? Well this one bloody well is, and if you don’t believe me you better get your doubting derrieres over to Sadler’s Wells to hear Alex Lacamoire’s re-scoring of this Bizet classic. We promise you, it’s even better than you can imagine.
Not that, of course, all the credit can be given to Lacamoire (though I guess he’s done alright with the musical direction of Dear Evan Hansen and that lesser-known show Hamilton) or even to Bizet, for that matter. Nope, a big huge chunk of the credit has to go to Christopher Renshaw, the director and brilliant brain who decided to set this retelling in Cuba.
“Cuba has had this whole history of problems. They will come to rehearsal, and they haven’t even had running water, and they haven’t had toothpaste, and they never complain. And they have a joy in life that I find quite humbling.”
Renshaw – a musical theatre heavyweight whose previous credits include The King and I and We Will Rock You – was initially inspired by Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones and saw the opportunity to bring this classic tale into a more relevant, more immediate setting. He assembled what can only be described as a crack team, including the aforementioned Alex Lacamoire for the musical arrangement and Rocklan Gonzalez Chavez, Cuba’s most famous choreographer.
Most importantly, the whole cast is Cuban – and it is this which I felt added the true authentic magic to the show. Not one cultural element felt borrowed. Cuba has a long-standing tradition of dance and theatre training, so every member is the consummate professional you’d expect on stage at Sadler’s Wells, but what truly sets this show apart is the palpable Cuban spirit communicated by this stunning cast.
“When it comes to taking something away from this show, I hope you see – more than anything - the spirit of these great people that are given a chance to show their country on stage through all the art forms in which they’re trained. The cast have this positive attitude which isn’t fake, it isn’t put on – they really are glad to be alive, and when you live in a country like Cuba, that can be very difficult.”
I know what you’re all thinking: “get to the good bit, we want to know what you think of the show, Fran – the only reason we come to this site is to lap up your pearls of wisdom and insight.”
Thank you, thank you, you’re too kind.
And as for the show? I bloody loved it. Even a seasoned theatre lover, like myself, can sometimes find their attention waning in a show that is 2 and a half hours long – but not this show. I was hooked, entranced, delighted all the way through.
The music was incredible – all the tunes you know and love but reimagined. Both the orchestration and the translation of the pieces into Spanish worked so well that it felt as if this was how it always should have been done. And the dancing – my goodness the dancing. So slick, so full of energy, so… hot. Seriously. If you want to impress a first date with some culture, this is a show to go for.
The set is multi-function and fabulous - it worked wonderfully - and the costumes could well have been borrowed from my dreams.
There were really only two flies in the ointment of the otherwise-flawless experience. One was the slightly unreliable surtitles. I have many, many accomplishments – but speaking Spanish is sadly not one, so it was a tad frustrating when the translations cut out and you could tell you were missing chunks of dialogue.
The other was Margaret and Jeremy – the older couple sat next to us who insisted on making their asides to each other in their normal speaking voices.
Still – there’s not a lot Sadler’s Wells can do about the latter, and I’m sure they have already fixed the former (we were there for the premiere, after all).
So, if you are going to see one show this summer, please, please – for your own sake – make it Carmen La Cubana. It is sexy, sassy, slick, and on at Sadler’s Wells until the 18th August.
Honestly, I loved it. As did Margaret and Jeremy – what more convincing do you need?