It may be hot outside but it’s sizzling at the Sadler’s Wells with Christopher Renshaw’s brand new Cuban-style musical, which is guaranteed to please dance and musical lovers. Carmen La Cubana is a celebration of Cuban culture: its fiery spirit and the people’s enjoyment of life. Renshaw has collaborated with award-winning artists, including Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton), co-writers Stephen Clark, Norge Espinosa Mendoza and choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez, to create a powerfully passionate and engaging stage show. A strong cast of Cuban dancers and singers give the production a bold and authentic touch. Every hip turn and acrobatic move is a taste of the mambo, cha-cha-cha, salsa or danzon.

Carmen La Cubana. Credit: Nilz Boehme.

Renshaw was inspired by the works of Georges Bizet and Oscar Hammenstein II’s unique narratives, as the opera and Broadway hit, yet Carmen La Cubana sets itself apart with its Cuban flair, magnetic party feel and eclectic musical styles. An impressive live band with skilled musicians, gifted in versatile instruments from brass, congo, bata drums and guitar, are – seriously – the genuine article. Despite the countless times it has been done, the story of Carmen has been remade and reproduced in various ways in hundreds of productions. It is no wonder that the stage world never gets tired of the tale of the Spanish seductress.

Carmen La Cubana. Credit: Nilz Boehme.

Tom Piper’s splendid sun-drenched stage seems stuck in the pre-revolutionary era of Cuba, 1958, where places and things appear rundown yet monumental at the same time. Carmen La Cubana has a new Spanish script and is filled with female curse words, sensual dialogue and, often, misogynistic exchanges between soldiers who are desperate to win Carmen’s affection. Yet, these derogatory digs at Carmen are designed to highlight Carmen’s independent and unruly character.

Carmen La Cubana. Credit: Nilz Boehme.

Where other productions let the story of Carmen unfold on its own, this one has its own Cuban narrator, courageously performed by Albita Rodríguez. She evokes the santería religion as La Señora. Luna Manzanares Nardo makes for an attractive, charming and hard-to-resist Carmen and it is her Carmen, who is free-spirited, stern and unshakable, which gets her in harm’s way with José’s unrelenting obsession with her. Saeed Mohamed Valdés’ demonstrates José’s vulnerability and intense violence superbly. Put together Nardo and Valdés’ vocal skills are a charismatic duo.

Carmen La Cubana. Credit: Nilz Boehme.

Joaquín García Majías gives a smooth and cool performance singing the Toreador’s song, except he is a boxer superstar here and not a champion bullfighter. There’s a never-ending supply of fiesta, fiesty catfights, cigar-waving and starry Havana nights. The production goes on the road with an international tour, but as it is still in London, for a limited time only, I’d make an effort to see it before it goes.

Photo by Mary Grace Nguyen, Sadler’s Wells – Opening Night, 1 Wednesday 2018.

 

Photo by Mary Grace Nguyen, Sadler’s Wells – Opening Night, 1 Wednesday 2018.

 

Photo by Mary Grace Nguyen, Sadler’s Wells – Opening Night, 1 Wednesday 2018.

Carmen La Cubana is showing at the Sadler’s Wells from 1 Wednesday until 18 Saturday August, 2018. Go to the Sadler’s Wells website to purchases tickets here.

I was offered a press ticket to review this show.

[Header shot: Credit: Nilz Boehme]