Renée and I saw *Caroline, or Change* on Nov 3, 2021. It's a musical from 2003 with music by Jeanine Tesori and a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner.
Renée and I are huge Kushner fans so we were excited to see this. I had seen the original production and remembered it fondly, so I was even more excited.
The show is about Caroline, an African-American woman who works as the maid to a middle-class Louisiana family in 1963. Much of the show takes place in the basement, where Caroline does the laundry. Her companions are the washer, the dryer, and the radio, all of which are embodied by wonderfully whimsical characters. The radio was played by a trio of women, they were my favorite element in the show, my heart sang whenever they were onstage.
Kushner and Tesori did a genius job of balancing these whimsical elements against the drama of the story. It's like they wanted to draw you in and get you entertained so you cared about the characters and were invested in their situation. rather than hitting you over the head with lots of Intense Drama.
This production originated in London and was brought over to the US by the Roundabout Theatre. The star of the show was Sharon D. Clarke, making her Broadway debut in the role of Caroline.
She had a very different presence in the role than Tonya Pinkins, who had played it in the original Broadway production. Pinkins was a human steamroller, she was fierce and intense. Clarke didn't brush over the undercurrent of resentment in the character, but her performance was more gentle and had more of a sense of the humanity of the woman. Plus Clarke's voice has a more lyrical, sweet quality than Pinkins's, who has a more traditional Broadway belt.
Caroline's show-stopping number near the end of the show is called "Lot's Wife." Pinkins gave a colossal, powerhouse performance of the number, it was shocking and overwhelming in its intensity and rage. Clarke performed it as the final straw of a downtrodden woman, still intense and full-bodied but more embittered than full of rage. The biggest surprise was that the high point of the song was the quiet coda at the end of the song, it gave me chills.