Carmen High

Georgia Mendes and Grant Bower Carmen High Edinburgh
  • Music Selections from Carmen GEORGE BIZET  
  • Alcoholic Kisses – LILY CAMPBELL           
  • Almost Sixteen –   LILY CAMPBELL
  • Hand Me Down – LILY CAMPBELL
  • Hitchhiker – LILY CAMPBELL
  • Needle in a Haystack – KENDRA HARRIS
  • The Clown – LILY CAMPBELL                                                                                         

So whaddya do when you can’t get through

Just don’t know what to do.

Cuz you don’t shop there

The five colors in your hair

Guess you’ll just get by

Welcome to Carmen High…

High School.  We challenge, try, question, argue, and sometimes – maybe often – suffer.  We are goths, emos, punks, gangbangers, ghetto, homeboys, rich, poor, new age, stoners, gay, bi, lesbian, undeclared, jocks, nerds, anime freaks, artists, on the spectrum, on drugs, black, white, brown, misunderstood, coddled, loved, unloved, abused, happy, unhappy, ever in search, and simultaneously, clear and confused.

Carmen High is the common ground for all high school students.  It speaks to some part of everyone’s experience.  Not since the 1943 Broadway retelling of the opera Carmen entitled Carmen Jones, has a repurposing of Bizet’s opera so effectively utilized the thematic elements of that story to express the full experience of high school and significantly, with authentic voices; high school students themselves.  With newly conceived lyrics that honor the intentions of the original French while updating the dialogue and context of the story, Carmen High blurs classical music with originally-composed hip hop and pop music to effectively make the emotional underpinnings of an opera written in the 1800’s still current.  Just as in the original opera, Carmen High blends music with dialogue to tell its story.

But Carmen High is more than a high-concept, pop opera.  It’s about real feelings and authentic experiences.  Why?  Because those feelings are represented in great songs composed by teenagers.   

Carmen High focuses on the central story involving Carmen, Jose, Micaela, and Carmen’s various friends.  In the original opera, Carmen is a gypsy, a woman with a different moral code that so intrigues the soldier, Don Jose that his attraction turns to obsession.  It is the quintessential story of fatal attraction.  In Carmen High, Carmen is a cheerleader, tough, focused on self-gratification, and a bully.  Her friends (part of the cheerleading and pep squads) both fear and glorify her.  Jose is a super-intelligent nerd/loner in need of an anchor to ground himself in reality but his brush with Carmen spins him out-of-control.  Ultimately, he targets Carmen and all of her friends, avenging his spurned heart by slaying the demons with a gun.

However, Carmen High is as much about its entire ensemble as it is about its principal performers.  As we follow the tragedy of Carmen, we are taken through the highs and lows of high school, stopping momentarily to reach into the lives of other students in the high school and to experience their inner thoughts/desires. 

The best part of Carmen High is its ability to constantly adapt to whatever is current and whoever is in the show. Unlike most Broadway musicals, it can uniquely adapt to any high school because of its carefully crafted structure.   It is also a remarkable, educational platform because it has a collaborative component that inspires dialogue.  Participants can range the gamut from great singers to great skateboarders.  Carmen High can ably adapt to the standards of a professional production or it can be staged in a gymnasium and tailored with nothing more than desks and platforms. Not unlike Baz Lurman’s vision of La Boheme for Broadway, Carmen High also offers engaging chorus numbers with lively staging and choreography despite its being a tragedy.

The Story of Carmen High

Hey, Carmen, you’re so fine…

Act 1: It’s a normal, high school day: going to class, skipping class, studying, hanging outside, avoiding the bullies. It’s no different for Jose. He may be one of the high school’s top students but he can’t escape from being bullied by cheerleading captain, Carmen, and her “cheer team” friends.  They all know Jose – aloof, smart, a little weird.  So, Carmen’s friends make a bet that she can’t get Jose to date her.  Carmen accepts the challenge and, with a loitering group of high school students as witness, flirts with Jose just before the football game to the familiar strains of the “Habanera.” Carmen freestyles a seductive dance and then throws Jose a flower.  As the cheerleaders exit, Jose picks up the flower – a small victory for Carmen.  Afterwards, Jose lingers about, watching the cheerleaders warm up before the game in the gymnasium.  He is discovered by Micaela, an old family friend, who has more on her mind than an idle conversation.  After beating around the bush, she finally tells Jose that she likes him and asks if he likes her.  Stunned and maybe a little touched, Jose tells Micaela he has some tutoring to do and he’ll catch her later.  Meanwhile, Carmen has a fight with one of the girls in the gym and is sent by the principal, Mr. Zuniga, to his office along with Jose as an escort and assurance that she will wait there.  While in Zuniga’s office, Carmen dances and flirts with Jose suggesting she’s in need of a date for a party on Friday night.  Jose can’t resist her and releases her so that she can go to the football game.

Act 2:  After the Game:  The girls’ locker room is filled with cheerleaders in post-football game celebrations, nerds doing gym “make ups,” and jocks taking showers.  The girls listen to tunes on an old boom box and fantasize about how they’re going to celebrate at a party on Friday night when they are interrupted by their school football team (the Toreros) who burst into the girls locker room elated by the day’s victory.  Miles, the Toreros’ quarterback, describes the gripping details of the game and their win.  Afterwards, Miles approaches Carmen, who is clearly interested in him.  Their flirtation is curtailed by the awkward presence of Carmen’s friends all of whom are eager to plan the details of the upcoming Rave. But they, too, are interrupted by the arrival of Jose.  Her friends eavesdrop while Carmen flirts with Jose, starting to undress him.  Somewhat overwhelmed by her advances and his feelings, Jose pushes Carmen away saying he has to walk his friend, Micaela, home.  Carmen goes ballistic and it seems like the whole school hears it, including Mr. Zuniga, who unlocks the locker room door and interrupts with the intention of taking Carmen to his office. Carmen’s friends sugar coat the situation and manage to persuade Zuniga to leave with them to discuss Homecoming.  Successful, they escort Zuniga out of the locker room.  Meanwhile, it feels like the whole school is crammed into that locker room, staring at Jose and Carmen.  Carmen confronts Jose about becoming her boyfriend, endorsing the joys of popularity if you are with the right person.  A sharp divide splits the popular from the unpopular as the entire ensemble sings about their relationship (happy or bitter) to being popular as Jose weakens and submits to Carmen. 

Act 3:  The Rave.  Time to party at Frasquita’.  After weeks of careful planning, Carmen’s friends discover somebody in the group managed to misplace the masks to get one past the door at the Rave.  Now the whole school is at Frasquita’s.   There’s a lot of drinking and…whatever.  Carmen shows up late with Jose straggling behind her like a dark shadow.  Although it was a bet, Carmen can’t shake this guy.  They argue at the party.  In an innocent game of tarot, Carmen lets her friends know that she doesn’t feel good about where things are headed.  For the first time, this tough girl seems scared.  Later, Micaela shows up, looking for Jose.   She worries about how he’s changed and wants to try to talk sense into him.  Before she can, Jose has a conversation with a drunken Miles.  The conversation erupts into a jealous fight.  Jose pulls out a knife but is thankfully overwhelmed by a few of the football players.    Seeing Micaela at the party shifts his perspective momentarily and Jose leaves the party in order to walk Micaela home.  When there’s too much drama, the party’s over.  Everyone leaves except for one of Carmen’s friends, Frasquita, who, in her haze, forgot her bag in the hangar.  As she walks back into the hangar, there’s a drunken football player waiting for her.

Act 4:  Homecoming Game!  A few weeks have passed since the Rave.  Outside the football stadium, everybody is excited for the big day except for Frasquita who has just discovered she is pregnant.  People turn out in droves and cheer on the Toreros to a victory.  Miles and Carmen are crowned Homecoming King and Queen and it appears that they are a couple.  As the crowd follows the football team into the stadium, Carmen’s friends warn her that they’ve seen Jose lurking nearby.  Carmen assures them she’s not afraid and will wait to confront him.  Left alone outside the stadium, Carmen waits for Jose as the cheers inside the stadium suggest the game has begun.  Jose appears in all black with a hoodie.  He pleads with Carmen to be with him again and she pushes him away.  He pulls her down and a struggle ensues.  As the football crowd roars, Carmen struggles to deflect Jose and get into the safety of the stadium.  Suddenly, Jose pulls out a gun and points it at Carmen.   Gathering up all her courage, she looks at Jose and says, “Go ahead, you were ALWAYS such a loser!”  She turns around proudly and walks toward the stadium.  Jose aims the gun and shoots her as the cheers from the crowd rise.  He takes a moment, pulls the hoodie over his head, puts his gun behind his back, and walks into the stadium.

                                                                                                            —-Stephanie Vlahos, Carmen High ©2016