Caroline, Or Change
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
Going into Caroline, Or Change I had high expectations but upon leaving I was bewildered by all the praise that has been lavished on the show so this may go against the grain of most reviews of the show you’re likely to read.
The show centres around Caroline, an underpaid black maid in Louisiana in 1963. She works for a family with a child named Noah who often leaves change in his pocket and his stepmother tells Caroline she can keep what she finds to teach Noah a lesson, a well meaning gesture but ultimately encourages exploitation. This takes place against a backdrop of social and political change happening at that time.
Sharon D Clarke takes on the title role and provides a knockout performance. The melancholy and tiredness are etched in her face and she encapsulates the character in every movement. Torn between what the money could provide and her sense of what’s right her struggle is clear and this often releases the anger in her. There is a show stopping performance in the second act when her vocal talents are really brought to the fore and allowed to shine.
Central to the plot is Carline’s relationship with Noah played by Aaron Gelkoff in this performance. The role is played with a maturity and sensitivity that belies his age and his voice was strong throughout the show. His and the other children’s performances in “Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw” are excellent and combined with the clever staging gives a powerful end to the first act.
However…these performances are not enough to cover up the cracks in the book and score.
The opening includes the personification of several household appliances which is unnecessary, distracting and cheapens the story. The “radios” were fabulous but could easily have been her conscience without the need for the singing dryer. In some ways these took away from the claustrophobia of the basement and made it seem more welcoming.
The set felt like it was lifted from a 1970’s TV show so emoting the wrong era and the literal physical split of the family felt contrived.
The score is an eclectic mix of sounds that don’t mold together well and appeared confused. This is part of the central problem in that it doesn’t know what it wants to say. It attempts to tackle civil rights, grief, intimacy, ambition and yearning and in doing so doesn’t manage to say much about any one of these. JFK’s shooting is thrown in to be political to help explore the idea of change but adds nothing to the story. An argument between Caroline’s daughter and Noah’s grandfather could be pivotal and enlightening but seems superfluous. There are the stories of multiple people told within the show but none of them are properly explored so these fall flat. There needed to be a decision on who’s story to tell and focus on that rather than trying to look at everything and everyone.
The basis for a strong story is there and the show has a stellar cast who all have magnificent voices but were let down by a weak book.
For me, this is not a show I would recommend and therefore gets 2 out of 5 Laura Michelle-Kelly’s.