Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Constellations, Guards at the Taj and Shake Loose

Christina Sajous
and Brandon Andrus

Photo by Stan Barouh
Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical is an innovative work that should bring new audiences to the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. The theater, which began its life decades ago as a summer-stock house, has seen the quality of its musicals grow during Jason Loewith's tenure as Artistic Director, but this propulsive world premiere production goes beyond that through the contributions of several Broadway-caliber creators.

Olney is co-producing the work with the Tectonic Theater Project, the company co-founded and led by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project), who directed and co-wrote this adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera with Cuban-American playwright Eduardo Machado. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, the current Broadway musical On Your Feet!) keeps the action moving and the temperature high, while Grammy Award-winning composer Arturo O'Farrill adapted Bizet's score and contributed some new music.

Even people not familiar with the opera are likely to have heard of Carmen, the seductress who lives according to her own rules and captivates the men around her. The creative team has moved the action from 19th-century Seville, Spain, to Havana in 1958, shortly before Fidel Castro's supporters came to power against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. In this world, Carmen (incendiary Christina Sajous, a fierce singer and dancer) is a gunrunner for the Castro forces, an Afro-Cuban descended from slaves and a practitioner of Santeria, the blend of African beliefs and Catholicism.

Carmen's target is José (Brandon Andrus), a poor yet rigidly disciplined young man determined to succeed as an officer in Batista's army; he loves wealthy Micaela (Briana Carlson-Goodman), who also loves him despite the objections of her parents. The fourth major character is Camilo (Caesar Samayoa), a swaggering boxer (a bullfighter in the original opera) coming home to Cuba after a triumphant tour of the U.S.

At first, Andrus seems stolid and overmatched by Sajous, but he grows in power as José falls under Carmen's spell. Samayoa glitters with self-possession and Carlson-Goodman brings poise to a comparatively small role. The ensemble embodies Trujillo's full-blooded dances, which incorporate both dancers slithering across the floor and several fight scenes, all supported by an onstage orchestra conducted from the piano by Christopher Youstra.

The authors have streamlined the dramatic action to less than two hours, with no intermission; Narelle Sissons' wide-open scenic design, with its rough walls and industrial-looking metal gates, converts easily from one locale to the next, assisted by David Lander's lighting; and Clint Ramos has designed costumes that delineate character at a glance.

Olney Theatre Center
Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical
February 10th - March 6th
A co-production with Tectonic Theater Project
Book by Moisés Kaufman and Eduardo Machado
Music composed and adapted by Arturo O'Farrill
Lyrics by Moisés Kaufman
Additional lyrics by Jason Loewith and Christopher Youstra
Based on the music of Georges Bizet
Willy Duarte: George Akram
Mercedes: Sumayya Ali
Fina: Michelle Alves
José: Brandon Andrus
Roberto: Moses Bernal
Micaela: Briana Carlson-Goodman
Zuñiga: Nick Duckart
Diego: Calvin McCullough
Carmen: Christina Sajous
Camilo: Caesar Samoyoa
Ensemble: Skizzo Arnedillo, Ronald Bruce, Tiffany Byrd, Karla Choko, Nurney, Alejandra Matos, José Ozuna, Kara-Tameika Watkins
Directed by Mois├ęs Kaufman
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Music director/additional arrangements: Christopher Youstra
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or

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