“Caroline, Or Change” is a colossal, creative, SMASH! The voices at Studio 54 on W. 54th Street raised the roof! Sharon D. Clarke is a Queen! Her voice is electrifying, and she commanded that stage with absolute power in her unbelievably stunning Broadway debut.
A stupendous musical, “Caroline, Or Change” has a book and touching lyrics by Tony Kushner with transforming music by Jeanine Tesori. It tells the moving story of Caroline, a maid who works for a white Jewish family, the Gellmans, in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1963. She is frustrated about the way that her life turned out: She loved her husband, but he turned out to be abusive when he couldn’t find work. When she fought back, he left and never returned. Her world consists of going into the family’s basement every day and doing the laundry. Her constant companions are the appliances, The Washing Machine, The Dryer and the Radio. She vents to them and they advise her. You will never hear such stunning vocals on “appliances”! Arica Jackson is absolutely marvelous as The Washing Machine. She not only appears in a delightful costume that includes bubbles, she shakes you up with a stunningly beautiful voice. Three extraordinary ladies perform as The Radio—Nasia Thomas, Nya and Harper Miles and they are incredible. Their voices were Broadway gold on the stage, and their harmonies are divine. Kevin S. McAllister gets Caroline hot and bothered as his deep, penetrating vocals command her attention. He is the sexiest Dryer on Broadway! We have the pleasure of also enjoying his stunning vocal instrument as he captivatingly performs as The Bus. His voice will have you fanning and sobbing. N’Kenge illuminates as The Moon. Her operatic instrument shines a light that is blinding and thrilling to experience. In “Caroline, Or Change,” powerful voices abound. Tamika Lawrence is fabulous as Dotty, another younger maid, who goes to college at night after work. Lawrence’s voice is beautiful and delightful to hear. Caroline’s children are Emmie, Jackie and Joe. Emmie, the oldest, is spectacularly portrayed by Samantha Williams. This young actress has vocal gifts that ASTOUND! Her character is high-spirited and rebellious and Williams gives this character such a fighting spirit, it is inspiring to witness. The roles of Jackie and Joe alternate performances; for the show I attended those roles were energetically and stunningly performed by Alexander Bello and Jayden Theophile.
Caroline holds a lot of sadness and anger and takes it out on those around her. She especially is anything but endearing with the Gellmans’ son Noah, who has an attachment to Caroline because, in his eyes, she is a strong woman and because his birth mother, who died from cancer, knew and liked Caroline. His father has remarried and Noah does not like his stepmother Rose and won’t give her a chance to be a part of his life. He clings to Caroline and wants to be important to her. He desires so much to be loved by her, to help her. Gabriel Amosoro played Noah—another role which alternates performers—and he was marvelous. He was funny, desperate for acceptance and wanted so badly to be the center of attention and a friend to a maid who never showed him any type of kindness, except their secret that she would let him light her one daily cigarette in the basement of his family’s home.
“Caroline, Or Change,” the name, means more than you realize at first glance. Noah has a habit of leaving change in his pockets and his stepmother Rose decides to teach him a lesson, which is that Caroline can keep any money she finds in his clothes while doing the laundry. At first Noah leaves small amounts of money; he wants Caroline to take it, and it’s his way of feeling that he is helping her to raise her children. Caroline struggles with the fact that she barely makes money, her bills are owed, but is it right to take money from a baby? Noah keeps leaving money in his pockets and Caroline in one scene gives each of her children a quarter and they are absolutely mystified and excited. Every time Caroline takes the boy’s change she feels conflicting thoughts. She needs the money, but she has her pride.
Mrs. Rose Stopnick Gellman—amusingly played by Caissie Levy—is frustrated by the fact that Caroline is always so sad and so angry. She never smiles. She is also frustrated by her stepson Noah’s continued rejection of her. Added to this stirring storyline is the fact that President Kennedy has been assassinated, and the reactions to this event are different in the white and Black communities. The people of Lake Charles are also getting tired of the blatant symbol of racism in their midst and a confederate soldier’s statue has disappeared. It will surprise you how and where it was found and who did the deed. “Caroline, Or Change” demonstrates beautifully that change in behavior, attitude and social issues is coming and it happens through people finally taking actions.
This musical embodies what a musical should be! This stage is filled with performers whose voices thrilled the audience every time they sang. I love it when actors do their job and make it look so easy and natural. Everything about this musical gave you chills, had you crying and shouting! This production of the Roundabout Theatre features exciting choreography by Ann Lee and superb direction by Michael Longhurst. “Caroline, Or Change,” is a change for the BETTER!