Home » London Theatre Reviews » Carmen La Cubana at Sadler’s Wells, London | Review

Carmen La Cubana at Sadler’s Wells, London | Review

Carmen La Cubana - Credit Johan Persson
Carmen La Cubana – Credit Johan Persson

Carmen La Cubana is the most uplifting and enjoyable show on anywhere in London. Beg, borrow or blag a ticket. But just get down to Sadler’s Wells and experience this all-singing, dancing extravaganza for yourself. It’s what life is all about. Mixing African, Cuban, Spanish and classical styles Carmen La Cubana has it all: Salsa, Bolero, Danzon, Cha-Cha-Cha, Contradanza, Congo, Palo and Makuta all blended with contemporary dance. What is truly exhilarating about Carmen La Cubana for me is that it just brushes aside as irrelevant the tiresome high culture/popular culture distinction. Here everything is seamlessly blended into the most life-affirming cultural mix. And it’s more fun that way, more entertaining, more enjoyable, how do you like it? more, more, more…

Based on Bizet’s opera Carmen of 1875 this new production has been created by Christopher Renshaw (We Will Rock You, Taboo, Zorro) and set in Cuba in 1958 just prior to the Revolution. And of course, now he’s made that analogy it seems obvious. It works terrifically well. With an all-Cuban cast, a 14 piece Cuban band, Spanish lyrics and book, musical orchestration and arrangements by Alex Lacamoire of Hamilton fame and to top it all choreography from Roclan Gonzalez Chavez (Lady Salsa and Ballet Revolution ) this show is irresistible.

Carmen is 27-year-old Luna Manzanares Nardo who is absolutely stunning. Colour coded in her red dress, red shoes, red fan ( which she uses as a weapon to swot men like flies), red lipstick and jet black hair she owns the stage. A young woman who won’t compromise and insists on her independence Renshaw’s Carmen embodies sexual, social and political freedoms. Her voice is a rich as Barcardi Gran Reserva. She displays the sexual charisma of a hypnotic intensity as she sashays, sings and wraps a rope around the besotted Jose.

Tom Piper’s set evokes 1950s Cuba with paint peeling off walls and the Cuban flag painted across the façade which when opened reveals Lilo’s Bar and the 14 piece band. Saeed Mohamed Valdes excels as the hopelessly conflicted Jose. In his white suit, fedora and spats Joaquin Garcia Mejias steals every scene he’s in.

Sadly Bizet died of a heart attack just three months after the premiere of Carmen and Carmen La Cubana will not be seen in Cuba. So thank your lucky stars and make the most of this wonderful opportunity. You can’t miss it because Rosebery Avenue is decked out in the Cuban flag.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Carmen La Cubana is a sizzling new musical featuring Bizet’s classic score flavoured with authentic Cuban styles.

Inspired by Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway hit Carmen Jones, Christopher Renshaw (The King and I) directs this UK premiere, with new orchestrations by Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton), mixing opera with salsa, mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha and including musical favourites such as Habanera.

Featuring a large company of singers, dancers and musicians, Carmen La Cubana is a sultry take on one of the most famous operas ever created, set against the simmering turmoil of Revolution in Cuba, 1958.

Carmen La Cubana
1 – 18 Aug 2018
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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