By Naomi Serviss / New York City
The revival of The Public Theater’s 2003
Caroline, or Change
is crushing it at Studio 54.
With Tony Kushner’s
brilliant book and lyrics and
Jeanine Tesori’s deft musical ‘60s reimagining,
Caroline nails the fraught relationship
between Blacks and Jews.
And that just scratches the surface
of this timely revisit.
(the majestic powerhouse Sharon D. Clarke)
is a bone-weary Black woman employed in 1963
by the Gellmans, a wealthy Jewish family
with a basement “16 feet below sea level.”
Set in Lake Charles, La.,
Caroline is tasked with household cleaning
and running endless laundry
in a dank basement, her living hell.
Basements are rare in the floodplains
of the Deep South.
The washing machine
has a mind of its own
and bubbles forth in neon glory.
Caroline’s true self
only emerges, blossoms and soars
when she’s alone with the feisty appliances
and aerial fantasies.
They’re good company with
singular, multi-tasking entertainment.
Caroline is also charged with
precocious eight-year-old Noah
when he returns home from school.
Noah, still reeling
from his mother’s death,
is emotionally invested in Caroline.
She’s not having it,
figuring her emotional investment
is focused on her own progeny.
Not an easy task for $30 a week.
Caroline begrudgingly tolerates
the over-thinking kid.
When he accidentally leaves money
in his pants pockets
before they’re washed,
Caroline plunks it in a plastic bleach cup
and returns it
to its rightful owner.
Until she doesn’t.
Noah and his father’s new wife Rose
to keep any found pocket change.
Insulted, Caroline at first refuses.
And there’s the rub.
What to do?
Take the pitiful pittance for her kids?
A slight ethical dilemma.
To complicate issues tenfold,
a $20 bill pitches the family
into a frenzied tizzy.
The $20 bill, a Hanukkah gift for Noah,
creates a domino effect
that disrupts the family irrevocably.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Staged by Michael Longhurst
for the Roundabout Theater Company,
the gloomy misery evoked
is deliciously broken up
by singing appliances and a seductive radio.
Spangles, sequins and an unexpected rain shower
heighten the tension
and secure audience attention.
The Gellmans’ Hanukkah fest includes
Rose’s left-ish father from New York City,
as well as other
more middle-of-the road-ish in-laws.
Singing, dancing and merrymaking ensue.
Rose’s father delivers
the aforementioned 20 bucks to Noah.
With a caveat about how money’s true value
Should be carefully measured.
Caroline is a head-spinning musical
teeming with aerial delights,
and a musical smorgasbord
of girl-group pop, Mozart,
Broadway and blues.
the two and a half hour musical,
which at times recalls
Angels in America in media fanfare.
drew audible audience gasps.
Her majestic register is otherworldly,
angelic and gut-grabbing.
Caroline is a curious lead character.
She never smiles,
and cringes when Noah’s stepmom Rose
mispronounces her name.
A small insult writ large.
Caroline tolerates Noah,
letting him light her daily cigarette.
But she disavows his longed-for friendship.
Both literal and metaphorical change
propels Caroline’s world.
She single-handedly toils for her children
in hopes they will escape
her dead-end world.
Clarke won an Olivier Award
for the British production,
and leaves her mark on Broadway’s.
You have until January 9 to catch
The change will do you good.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com