Compelling actors, subpar plot in ‘Carmen Jones’

Courtesy Miguel A. Gastelum

Fresno State University Theatre premiered its final show of the semester on May 3, a musical titled “Carmen Jones” boasting an all-black cast.

“Carmen Jones” is based on the opera “Carmen” and was written by Oscar Hammerstein II. This production is set in the ‘70s and follows young Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) student Joe as he becomes entranced by the sassy and seductive Carmen Jones.

Jones leads Joe to greener pastures away from his hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou, his dreams of becoming an officer and all the way to Chicago, with the promise of a better future together.

Jones is played by Fresno State theatre arts alumna Breyare Tender. Tender commands the stage and embodies the female empowerment Jones as a character exudes.

Joe is played by theatre arts senior Joshua Slack. Slack’s performance as the doe-eyed boy in love with a woman is adorable, though his character is to be pitied for seemingly throwing away his dreams for a woman he barely knows.

As always is the case for Kristine Doiel, her costume design stole the show. Doiel was the designer for last semester’s Christmas play “Miss Bennet.”

The fun styles and colors scream the 1970s. There is no doubt in what era the play takes place, with bell-bottom jeans and afros abounding. Doiel did well to set each character apart, even the individuals of the large ensemble.

There is a live orchestra playing all the songs on stage the whole time. That was refreshing and not something we’re used to seeing at Fresno State.

As for the script itself, it drags. The step battle between two rival black sororities was as exciting as the story got (without spoiling the end). The actual plot is lackluster. Not much happens in the entire first act, and by intermission you aren’t entirely endeared to the main characters.

“Carmen Jones” is exciting to have broken the mold with an all-black musical. It is slightly above mediocre, though that is by no fault of the actors.

The show continues through May 11. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. For ticketing information, contact the box office at 559-278-2216 or email          

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