When Oscar Hammerstein II's 1943 English-language, musical theater adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, retitled Carmen Jones, finally made it to London in April 1991, each of the two major roles, Carmen Jones herself and her lover Joe, were played alternately by two pairs of performers, either Wilhelmenia Fernandez and Damon Evans or Sharon Benson and Michael Austin. This was due to the vocal demands of the roles, combined with the economic demands of running the show eight times a week. The same thing had been done, at least with regard to the female lead, on Broadway 48 years earlier, and when it came to recording the cast album, the producers simply picked one singer over the other. This time, a Solomon-like decision has been made instead, and the two pairs of performers alternate from one song to another. Fernandez and Evans begin the recording, singing "Dere's a Cafe on de Corner" after Fernandez has handled "Dat's Love" and Evans has shared "You Talk Jus' Like My Maw" with Karen Parks as Cindy Lou. Benson takes over as Carmen as of "Whizzin' Away Along de Track," and Austin sings Joe's "Dis Flower," then these two duet on "If You Would Only Come Away," after which Benson appears on "De Cards Don' Lie/Dat Ol' Boy." But Fernandez and Evans return for "Finale." This may have been a diplomatic solution, but it makes for a confusing listening experience, especially since there is some spoken dialogue along with the singing. Fernandez and Benson also have noticeably different singing voices, with Benson's more vulnerable and light, and Fernandez's more powerful, and they give different interpretations of the role. Thus, to enjoy this recording, one simply must throw dramatic effect out the window and focus on the musical performances, whoever is giving them. Happily, that is possible, given the use of the original Robert Russell Bennett show music orchestrations, which take Bizet to Broadway, and the presence of a strong secondary cast that actually gets to sing some of the major songs, notably Carolyn Sebron, as Frankie, singing "Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum," Gregg Baker, as Husky Miller, singing "Stan' Up and Fight," and, especially, Parks singing "Cain't Let You Go" and "My Joe." Thankfully, they haven't been doubled.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann