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Aisle Seat: The Times They Are A-Changin’ for Caroline

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

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.

Caroline Thibodeaux

(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.

Adam Makké as Noah and Clarke as Caroline
Adam Makké as Noah and Clarke as Caroline

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

implore Caroline

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.

The cast of “Caroline, or Change”
The cast of “Caroline, or Change”

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,

Motown, klezmer,

Broadway and blues.

Drum-tight tension

spikes during

the two and a half hour musical,

which at times recalls

Angels in America in media fanfare.

Clarke stars in the Studio 54 production, which was interrupted by the pandemic shutdown
Clarke stars in the Studio 54 production, which was interrupted by the pandemic shutdown

Clarke’s powerhouse,

eleventh-hour song

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.

Unsympathetically grim,

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

this breathtaking,

star-making machinery.

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

1 comment

1 Comment

Dec 03, 2021

😍You did it again!

Another great piece of writing!!


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