Theatre: Caroline Or Change



I received a bit of flack this week from an anonymous poster connected somehow to the West End production of Cabaret saying I was such a bitch for what I wrote about Cabaret and that I should stick to watching Daddy Cool or some other jukebox musical as that would be all my intelligence could cope with. Those creative types can get so touchy...

Anyway, I had already bought tickets to see Caroline Or Change for Thursday evening so I couldn't take them up on their suggestion. I had been looking forward to this for some time. Listening to the Broadway Cast Recording over the past couple of years it has grown on me to be one of my favourite musicals of recent years. With a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner (who also wrote Angels in America) and music by Jeanine Tesori (who wrote the musicals "Violet" and "Twelfth Night" and the new music for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" when it was adapted for stage) it received raves when it opened and the UK production has similarly received glowing reviews since opening.

Set in Louisiana where "Nothin' ever happens" just after the Kennedy assassination in 1963, it covers a period of small changes and bigger impacts that flow from them. Caroline is a black maid in a Jewish household. Noah, a young boy in that household, keeps leaving small change in his pockets and his step mother wants to teach him a lesson by letting Caroline keep all the change in his pockets. Caroline is a sad and lonely figure, but she escapes into her own world of work as a maid in the basement doing laundry where the washing machine, the radio and the dryer come to life. Her life is the music of the day so the score is peppered with soul, blues and rock and roll music set to the mundane and banal world that she is living in. This a world where money, loss and disappointment in life rule the day. Her daughter and her friend Dotty are moving with the times, but Caroline is resisting everything that is happening around her.

The drama builds to a series of climaxes that culminate in the performance of the above song "Lott's Wife" which has to be the most exciting thing I have seen on stage. Sitting where I was - merely a few metres away from Tonya Pinkins (reprising her role from Broadway and seen in the above clip) - you couldn't help but be blown away. The rest of the cast in this production were equally fabulous, and the singing in this production was particularly good. Pippa Bennett-Warner as Caroline's daughter Emmie was great and I also liked Malinda Parris as the washing machine who gave wet sudsy clothes such sex appeal...

For a musical some serious themes were being dealt with here. Race, poverty, consumerism, grief, anger, loss and disappointment. But at the heart of this show with its focus on two families was a story of hope and optimism. A new direction for an old genre called musical theatre if there ever was one...

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