Dec 18th, 2018
Set in the deep southern state of Louisiana in 1963, our story begins with the squelch of a bog and the constant ribbiting of the local frogs, there in a basement we meet Caroline, a troubled black maid who works for the struggling Gellman family for $30 a week. Noah, the Gellman's 8-year-old son has a strange fascination with the 'mean' Caroline after losing his own mother to cancer. Caroline, on the other hand, has no interest in him, except for the lighting of her daily cigarette. When Noah's stepmother (the kind-hearted Rose, played by Lauren Ward) becomes fed up of Noah's disregard for his pocket money she decides that whatever Caroline finds in Noah's pockets she can keep. Little does she know that this seemingly small act of kindness will challenge Caroline like never before.
After a somewhat confusing and clunking start (I don't know how many different melodies Kushner was trying to fit into the first 10 minutes) the musical begins to settle into a kooky sung-through rhythm. With singing washing machines and an operatic moon, Caroline, Or Change tells the story of a single mother at the heart of one of the greatest tides of change in American history.
Like many of Kushner's productions Caroline, or Change is there to challenge you. From Emmy's (Caroline's daughter, an enigmatic and effervescent Abiona Omonua) drive for social change, to the interactions between 8-year-old Noah and Caroline, Kushner dives into one of the most turbulent and inspiring parts of history. Peeling back the covers of the past, Caroline, Or Change places an emphasis on the everyday men and women who lived through it all.
With ever-changing melodies and no pause for breath, Caroline, Or Change is a masterwork in voice. Jeanine Tesori's score tumbles and twists around itself, coming together in moments of clarity to then breaking away again, mirroring the tumult of the society in which the musical sits.
Sharon D. Clarke stuns as our titular character, her smooth yet powerful tone cuts through the ever-changing and chattering voices of the others. Although the musical is centred around Caroline, she says very little, but Clarke embodies the role in one of the finest pieces of character work I've ever seen and all eyes are drawn to her - a lone figure amongst all the madness.
With the blues, classical music, and Jewish Klezmer all featuring in this production, Caroline, or Change isn't necessarily just a story about the civil rights movement. It's a story about being human, in all its joys and challenges.
View our show pages for more information about Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre.
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