12 January 2019 (released)
15 January 2019
There are only a few weeks left to catch this highly original, Olivier award winning musical at the Playhouse theatre. Written by Tony Kushner (Angels of America) with music by Jeanine Tesori it doesn’t fall comfortably into any one box, with an unusual blend of musical and theatrical genres. Whether or not you enjoy every element, Michael Longhurst’s production certainly packs an emotional punch, with moments of extraordinary power that feel more like serious drama than musical theatre.
Caroline or Change is partly based on Kushner’s memories of his childhood in small town Louisiana. Sharon D Clark gives a riveting portrait of Caroline, a black maid and mother of four, idolised by the son of her white Jewish employers, eight year old Noah Gellman (Isaac Forward) who’s own mother has died. Embittered by her life as a low-paid maid sweltering in the basement of his family home she too has been devastated by personal loss. When he leaves money in the pockets of his laundry and his step-mother patronisingly insists that Caroline keeps it, things begin to change. Through this intimate relationship Caroline or Change reaches out to explores grief, depression, race relations, the civil rights movement and African American and southern Jews in the early 1960’s.
If the first half had a few audience heads spinning with the washing machine, tumble dryer and radio competing to sing the loudest in Caroline’s basement, the second half pay off is well worth the wait. When Grandma and Grandpa Gellman come from New York for Hanukkah, a brilliant scene around the dinner table kicks off with the goose being rushed in from the kitchen and Caroline’s rebellious daughter Emmie (Abiona Omonua) getting into a debate with Grandpa Gellman (Vincent Pirillo). Big ballads follow hard and fast until Carolines deeply moving song, ‘Lot’s Wife’ which cracks opens the heart of the show – it’s about sorrow and rage, grief and loss and finally the courage it takes to make a change.
This very human drama set at a time of enormous social and political upheaval never falls into cliché or generalisation. If the tone of the first half sometimes feels uneven, it’s a price worth paying for such an original production.
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