Theatre / Feature

All you need to know about: Caroline, Or Change

Sharon D Clarke leads the cast in this award-winning musical.

The award-winning Caroline, Or Change has now transferred to London’s West End starring Sharon D Clarke in the central role.

Directed by Michael Longhurst, the production is written by Tony Kushner (who also wrote the acclaimed Angels In America), with a score by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home).

Caroline, Or Change won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, taking audience inside America during turbulent social politics. The charged lyrics are set to a score of soul, blues, classical and traditional Jewish folk music.

Check out the trailer below:

What is Caroline, Or Change about?

This imaginative and moving story – set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in America’s Deep South – follows maid Caroline, who toils away endlessly in the basement of the Gellmans’ house, her employers. But amidst the piles of laundry lies a fantastical place, populated by a singing washing machine and a Motown-inspired radio, who offer both Caroline and eight-year-old Noah Gellman a place to escape to.

However, in the sweltering heat, in-between the steaming and the drying and the ironing, a simple gesture to leave more money in Caroline’s pocket sets in motion a series of events which test just how far the winds of change can ever really reach…

Who stars in Caroline, Or Change?

Olivier Award winner Sharon D Clarke takes on the title role of Caroline Thibodeaux. She has previously appeared in the likes of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Amen Corner at the National Theatre. As well as the likes of Ghost The MusicalThe LifeHairspray and We Will Rock You, Clarke is also known for her portrayal of Lola Griffin in the long-running BBC series Holby City.

In Caroline, or Change, she is joined by Abiona Omonua as Emmie Thibodeaux, Lauren Ward as Rose Stopnick Gellman, Alastair Brookshaw as Stuart Gellman and Me’She Bryan as The Washing Machine. Jack Meredith, Isaac Forward and Aaron Gelkoff share the role of Noah.

Watch as we joined Abiona Omonua and director Michael Longhurst at the Caroline, Or Change rehearsals in November 2018.

 

What can audiences expect from Caroline, Or Change?

This magnificent musical is an unusual mix, tackling some pretty big issues head-on while embracing the audience through its more frivolous side – the traditional Jewish folk music is sumptuous, and the stunning set pieces involving signing washing machines and seductive dry heaters are wonderfully charming.

At the heart of the piece though is Caroline – played triumphantly by the irrepressible Sharon D Clarke – who finds herself on the wrong side of history. Committed to her work and the family who employ her, Caroline is trapped and cannot see that this is a time for change: her daughter is politically engaged; her friend, Dot, is at night school; and the civil rights movement of the 1960s is about to ignite a flame across the nation.

But Caroline, devoted not just to her job but to supporting her four children as best she can, resists the upheaval around her and just gets on – so much so that when the opportunity to change her fortune presents itself, she is left with a dilemma that, while on the surface seems fairly innocuous, brims with complexity and uncertainty.

What Kushner’s musical does so well is explore all of this with real depth and sophistication. Lyrically, it’s a tour de force, evoking political analysis and intricate poetry – all of it laced with wry humour and wit. Supporting this is Tesori’s sublime score, which incorporates every style of music from folk to jazz and Motown to big musical theatre ballads, all blended together with surgeon-like precision.

Similarly, the ensemble come together with meticulous care and attention to detail too, so that regardless of whether you’re with Caroline in the basement of the Gellman house, listening to the radio, or on the night bus that takes Caroline and Dot home to the other side of town, there’s an ebb and flow to Michael Longhurt’s direction that feels transcendent.

Abiona Omonua, as Emmie, really rules the roost whenever she is on stage; and Lauren Ward is a marvel as the harangued mother trying to do right by both her uptight Jewish family and her sassy, brow-beaten maid. At the heart of it all though is the awe-inspiring performance by Sharon D Clarke.

Her voice is extraordinary, and she captures every beat of what it means to be Caroline, from the powerful, hungry anger she summons when talking about her deadbeat husband, to the quiet stillness she manages to distill in the madness that booms around her during act one closer, Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw.

You knew you’d be in safe hands with Clarke at the helm – but maybe not quite this safe. It truly is a performance – and a production – that cannot be missed.

What else do I need to know?

Caroline, or Change is now playing at the Playhouse Theatre in London until 9 February 2019. You can check out more photos from the show here.

Tickets are on sale now. Get yours at Ticketmaster.co.uk

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