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

Carmen Jones

By Miguel A. Gastelum


University Theatre will present their first-ever African-American musical “Carmen Jones” on May 3 – 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 an entirely 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 at a historically black college where Carmen Jones is employed at the campus cafeteria. The promiscuous Jones soon manages to steal Joe away from his fiancée and the ROTC; they run off to Chicago together. But the fickle Jones 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.

Carmen Jones poster

“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.

Performances on May 3 – 4 and May 7 – 11 begin at 7:30 p.m. and the May 5 performance begins at 2:00 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 night, parking permits are required and can be purchased at dispensers in parking lots on campus.

Carmen Jones is sponsored by the Office of the President at Fresno State.
For more information, contact the box office at 559.278.2216 or universitytheatre@csufresno.edu.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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