Review – Caroline, or Change

Wednesday 20 December 2006

images.jpgIt’s boom time for black performers in the West End. What with Caroline, or Change, Porgy and Bess and er… Daddy Cool, the work is pouring in. And in two-thirds of cases, what terrific shows.

WEW took a trip to the National Theatre yesterday evening to catch Tony (Angels In America) Kushner’s Caroline, or Change, drawn not only by the enthusiastic reviews, but by the tantalising return of punctuation marks to the West End musical. While the comma in Caroline, or Change may not have the dynamism of the exclamation mark in Oliver! WEW are thrilled at this important stylistic revival.

Anyhow, Caroline, or Change is set in Louisiana in 1963, a time of social upheaval and the assassination of President Kennedy (Phil thinks he remembers where he was when it happened. Andrew – being much younger – certainly can’t remember; but he clearly recalls where he was when Valerie Barlow electrocuted herself with a hair dryer in Coronation Street. But then, who can’t?).

Caroline (the excellent Tonya Pinkins) is black maid to a Jewish family. The sung-through musical focuses on her relationship with the family’s son Noah and her own children. The “change” of the title refers not only to the social and civil rights changes of the period but also to the loose change Noah leaves in his pockets to be found by Caroline on laundry days. There were probably many other changes alluded to but WEW weren’t sure what these were. Although the show is brilliantly sung, the lyrics were occasionally unclear leaving the whingers scratching their heads.

Despite this WEW loved the fluid design of the show (note for historians: this is the first use of the word “fluid” in a WEW review).

They also thought it well cast throughout. In addition to the wonderful Pinkins there’s Ian (“stupid boy”) Lavender as Grandpa, Valda Aviks (so good in the original cast of Jerry Springer – The Opera) and Anna Francolini impressed the whingers greatly as Noah’s bitching stepmother.

Plaudits too for Pippa Bennet-Warner as Caroline’s daughter who gives Pinkins a run for her money on the vocal front and an underused Clive Rowe in fine voice, as always. He plays a dryer and a bus (don’t ask)

The kids are scarily confident, in particular (on the night we saw it) Greg Bernstein as Noah – it’s a large role with some very demanding musical activities.

There’s also trio of sixties girl group type singers as the voice of the radio wearing exactly the wigs and frocks we had so desperately hoped to see in the Menier Chocolate Factory’s current production of Little Shop of Horrors (our only gripe about that show). Anyway, West End Whingers take their hats off yet again to the NT’s wig department.

Pinkins has an impressive “eleven o’clock number” (at the National Theatre it was at roughly 9.30pm) which showed off her impressive voice’s full range. She wowed them in this role on Broadway and although this show isn’t playing every night here, the whingers feel that even one performance of this a week has to be more demanding than the work of certain performers who can’t manage all eight performances in a supporting role (Stand up, Lesley Garrett, you know who you are).

Not for the first time, WEW couldn’t quite work out the point of of it all. In the programme notes author Tony Kushner says, “I never like to say what a play of mine means, or what it’s about.” so perhaps he doesn’t either. If you do, Tony, give us a clue.

But then Mr Kushner did write the fabulously succinctly titled, Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, so he’s clearly a thinker and we are happy to accept that our intellectual capacities were just not up to the material.

We would also enjoy some clarification on why Caroline was sometimes referred to as Carolyn. Presumably this doubled the rhyming opportunities. Or perhaps it was just another of the changes of the title. So many layers, so many layers.

3 Responses to “Review – Caroline, or Change”

  1. Paul Says:

    Hmm just a quick glance of the script and I don’t see any deliberate use of Carolyn… Could it be the southern pronunciation?

  2. daveonthego Says:

    I must admit by the time the trio came out to sing about salty tears, they were running down both sides of my face. Wow the singing was good in this and I usually hate recetitive, but I loved this. Not sure exactly what happened either but the performances were so strong it’s all forgiven. I forgot my lorgnette and pince nez and couldn’t see the faces but it held my interest till the last.

  3. cathy Says:

    hmmmmmmm dat film was sooooooooo gd wud watch it 100 timez g geeez xxx

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