Review: Bad Girl Makes Good in a Glorious ‘Carmen Jones’

Review: Bad Girl Makes Good in a Glorious ‘Carmen Jones’

As for Carmen herself, Ms. Rose, a Tony winner for “Caroline, or Change,” more than makes good on her character’s boast, that when she loves someone, “my baby, that’s the end of you.” Wearing snug, flame-color dresses (Ann Hould-Ward is the costume designer), her hips rolling like waves in a gentle surf, Ms. Rose nails the contemptuous arrogance of the sexiest girl in a small town.

But she gives Carmen the provincial girl’s naïve hunger for — and fear of — a bigger, more glamorous life. This discrepancy is reflected not just in her giveaway gaze and serpentine movement (thank Mr. Jones for the devastating Salome-style dance of enticement she performs) but, more important, in a soprano that unleashes itself into heady flights of rapture and sunken notes of anger and resignation.

As her chief prey, the virtuous Joe, a touchingly bewildered Clifton Duncan, has a tenor that matches Ms. Rose’s mezzo in ways that remind you that, in opera, sex starts in the vocal cords. The theory is confirmed by David Aron Damane’s booming bass prizefighter, Husky Miller, who captures Carmen’s attention.

But the entire cast — which also notably includes a heartfelt Lindsay Roberts in the ingénue role of Cindy Lou — is first-rate, and each member creates a specifically defined individual whom you somehow feel you’ve met before. Yet when they cut loose for Mr. Jones’s centerpiece dance number, a stylized mix of shoulder-shaking swing and jive, everyone melts into an ecstatic harmony.

That’s during the aforementioned “Beat Out Dat Rhythm.” The soloist here is the marvelous Soara-Joye Ross as Frankie, and for the duration of the song she is the life force incarnate, exultant and undeniable.

There may be tragedy just around the corner, but for the immediate now, human existence seems like a blessed gift. Frankie concludes the song proclaiming there “ain’t but one big heart for the whole world,” and for those few radiant minutes, you actually believe her.

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