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University Theatre to offer original concept on African-American musical, ‘Carmen Jones’

Published Thursday, May 2, 2019
(Source: Fresno State)

University Theatre will present its first-ever African-American musical “Carmen Jones” May 3 through 11 in the John Wright Theatre. This Fresno premiere is directed by Professor Thomas-Whit Ellis and will feature an all African-American cast.

The play is based on Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy’s adaption of Prosper Merimee’s “Carmen,” written by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Georges Bizet – but with a twist. The Fresno State production will, for the first time, be presented with a new, original concept. Ellis has updated the setting of the story from a 1940s parachute factory to a 1970s fictionalized version of a historically black college.

During the 1970s, Joe, an ROTC student, is enrolled in college where Carmen Jones works at the campus cafeteria. Carmen manages to steal Joe away from his fiancée and the ROTC, and they run off to Chicago together. But the fickle Carmen loses interest in Joe when she meets and successfully woos Husky Miller, a prizefighter on his way to the top.

Mad with jealousy, Joe waits for Carmen outside the stadium the night of Husky's big fight to make a last desperate plea for her love. When she denies him resolutely, he stabs her to death in a rage of passion to the eerie accompaniment of the crowd inside the stadium cheering on Husky's victory.

“The major thing with this production, which hasn’t been done before, is it’s taking place on a black college campus during the early ‘70s,” said Ellis. “This lends itself to black college life – step shows, black nationalism, etc. We also see a schism between the black fraternity/sorority community and the non-college educated workers who render support services to those students. It’s a basic visual backdrop to the storyline.”

The cast of Fresno State students, alumni, staff and community members includes Sharon Anderson, Cedes Sky Blackburn, Unique Blackburn, Noah Blackwell, Saywa Chuji, Renee Cromer, Kelsey Dawson, Lynette Dixon, Nate Grimes, Latonia Haynes, Christopher St. James, Princess Jiman, Cheryl Johnson, Kyaeja Major, Tiffany Mangum, Fredrick McCarty, Juanita McDonald, Jhanaia Moore, Samuel Ethan Morgan, Alexis Myles, Dalondray Myles, Nwachukwu Oputa, Denise Rogers-Heydt, Mi-Angel Shelley, Mitch Shaw, Joshua Slack, Ta’lon Taylor, Breayre Tender, Rochelle Turner, Michael Walker, Jada Warren, Levetta Wheeler, Reginald Williams, Aaléyah Wilson, Deseree Whitt, Nailah Wint and Syraih Wint.

The production is assistant directed by Deseree Whitt and James Smith, choreographed by Katrina Steward, vocally directed by Christopher St. James, and musically directed by Josh Jensen.

This production of “Carmen Jones” is sponsored by Fresno State’s Office of the President.

Performances on May 3 and 4 and May 7 through 11 begin at 7:30 p.m. The May 5 performance begins at 2 p.m. Latecomers will be seated at the house manager’s discretion.

Tickets are $20 for adults; $18 for Fresno State faculty, staff, alumni and military; and $12 for all students. Children under 5 not admitted. Group rates are available for groups of 20 or more. Box office hours are noon to 4 p.m. on weekdays and one hour before each performance.

Parking is free for shows on Friday through Sunday night. For shows on Tuesday through Thursday nights, parking permits are required and can be purchased for $4 at dispensers in parking lots on campus.

For more information, contact the box office at 559-278-2216 or

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