The Chichester Theatre production of this accomplished musical has just announced it closes a month early to make room for the transfer of Fiddler on the Roof from the Menier, but I would recommend you take advantage of the deals and discounts now available to see Caroline, or Change, if you can.
Planned for several years, and written by Angels in America author Tony Kushner, this show was originally planned as an opera but instead grew into a stage musical, largely sung-through, composed by Jeanine Tesori (her previous show, Violet, is also in town, and I will report back on that next month).
Caroline (Sharon D Clarke) is a black maid who works for a rich Jewish family, the Gellmans. She is a widow with three children of her own, who live in poverty under the shadow of the Confederate Statue we see as the play opens, a symbol of the white privilege which stops the likes of Caroline and her friend Dotty (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) from getting on in life.
The opening scene proper gives a sense of the unusual: there is a singing washing-machine, a dryer, and eventually, the lady in the moon. This gives a sense of the fantastic to Caroline’s mundane day of cleaning and doing the laundry.
We are also introduced to Noah, the spoiled young man of the house (Aaron Gelkoff at this performance), who misses his dead mother, resents his cookie-cut stepmother (Lauren Ward), and enjoys sharing an illicit daily cigarette with Caroline.
Noah has a habit of leaving loose change in his pockets, and this is the “change” which is depicted in the title; he seeks attention by leaving the change for Caroline (who is allowed by Rose, the wife, to keep it), and she takes the opportunity to treat her children to the treats they would otherwise go without.
Politics intrude now and then – the assassination of JFK, who was on the side of civil liberties, and a Chanukah celebration which touches on racial politics, with an argument between Mr Stopnick, Rose’s father (Teddy Kempner) and Emmie, Caroline’s growing daughter (Abiona Omonua) – but what matters is the bond between people, and the aspiration for change in the literal sense.
Noah’s father (Alastair Brookshaw) plays the clarinet and hides his grief; his parents (Vincent Pirillo and Sue Kelvin) add pointed commentary, and Noah grows to find his place in the natural order of things; still, by the ending it seems Caroline has achieved her change, set aside the memories of the sailor she lost, and found her place.
The songs are largely memoraable and vibrant – highlights would include Lot’s Wife, I Hate the Bus, and the Laundry Quintet, with the Radio girls who form a kind of chorus. Clarke is an acting and singing powerhouse, and Omonua is impressive, and all the children do well with their routines.
An informative programme (£5) gives the cultural background on the time depicted, and the genesis of the show.