By Kenneth Jones
29 Aug 2004
A two-disc cast album of the musical preserves the work of the cast and the score by librettist-lyricist Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori. The Tony-nominated Best Musical originated at The Public Theater in late 2003 and transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre with most of its cast intact. George C. Wolfe directed.
Center stage in the show was actress Tonya Pinkins, whose steely performances as a maid in a Louisiana household was praised and Tony-nominated. Anika Noni Rose, who played Caroline's more hopeful daughter, Emmie, won the Tony for Best Featured Actress (Musical).
Broadway previews began April 1, and the musical officially opened May 2.
The Caroline producers issued this statement earlier in summer, when they announced the closing: "We are all so proud to have been a part of this wonderful production of Caroline, or Change. We want to congratulate Tony Kushner, Jeanine Tesori, George C. Wolfe, and the entire cast who have worked so hard to bring this unique musical to Broadway. Caroline, or Change broke new ground in the American musical theatre, and this amazing musical will be seen by many more theatregoers across the world in the years to come."
The project by the creators of Angels in America (Kushner) and Thoroughly Modern Millie and Violet (Tesori) was viewed as a commercial risk for Broadway, and did not recoup its investment. The producers approached the property as a passion, a labor of love, rather than a financial sure thing: They were jazzed about confluence of creators, ideas, characters, tensions and emotions that comprised the work.
Caroline is the sad-faced struggling maid, emotionally caught between the values of the white Jewish family she works for and the black community whose hopes are shifting in 1963 — the era of JFK, Martin Luther King and Motown.
In recent weeks the marketing of the show shifted to include newspaper print ads in which Caroline was seen smiling as her children danced. This was in contrast to the theatre's marquee and poster art, which offered a gloomy Caroline in white uniform smoking a cigarette alone, with downcast eyes.
Pinkins wowed audiences nightly with an Act II sequence called "Lot's Wife," in which the conflicted Caroline explored who she was and whether or not she had the capacity — given her circumstances and past — to change in a changing world. Some viewed her performance in that 11 o'clock number to be thrilling in the same way seeing a Merman or a Lansbury must have been at the end of Gypsy or Mame. She sang "Lot's Wife" on the 2004 Tony Award broadcast.
The almost dialogue-free show was viewed by many as an opera using pop flavors such as jazz, blues, R&B and more. Individual musical numbers in the show are not delineated in the Playbill — the score seamlessly bleeds from one sequence to the next, not always delivering "buttons" or conventional "numbers." The CDs break the score into 53 tracks.
Tesori previously told Playbill On-Line she doesn't concern herself with defining what the show is — "chamber musical," "opera," "musical play," are terms applied to the mostly-sung show.
"I just call it a piece of theatre," Tesori said. "Labels are difficult only in that then I think there's an expectation in going into see something. Labels, in a sense, are about comfort. We get caught in the language, understandably, because at this point you're trying to synthesize what is from what was. Many people have been searching for a term for it, and basically I've been saying, 'Go see it and experience it and don't worry about a name.' Someone will come up with something; they did for 'symphonic form.' [Definitions] tend to happen afterward. It's not something we honestly thought about when we were cooking it. We just kind of kept doing it, which was not how I usually work. It was a very scary and really exciting way to work."
The Broadway troupe is largely the same that played at Off Broadway's Public Theater.
The cast includes Reathel Bean, Harrison Chad, Tracy Nicole Chapman, David Costabile, Veanne Cox, Aisha de Haas, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marva Hicks, Capathia Jenkins, Larry Keith, Ramona Keller, Alice Playten, Leon G. Thomas III, Chandra Wilson and Chuck Cooper.
The creative team includes Riccardo Hernández (set design), Paul Tazewell (costume design), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Jeffrey Frank (hair design), Rick Bassett (orchestrator), Joseph Joubert (orchestrator), Buryl Red (orchestrator), Kimberly Grigsby (music supervisor), John Miller (music coordinator), Linda Twine (music director and conductor), Hope Clarke (choreographer).
The Caroline Company — the producing team — is comprised of Carole Shorenstein Hays, HBO Films, Jujamcyn Theaters, Freddy DeMann, Scott Rudin, Hendel/Morten/Wiesenfeld, Fox Theatricals/Manocherian/Bergère, Roger Berlind, Clear Channel Entertainment, Joan Cullman, Greg Holland/Scott Nederlander, Margo Lion, Daryl Roth, and Zollo/Sine in association with the Public Theater.
According to production notes, "Caroline is the black maid of a Southern family, made up of a father, his new wife and the man's young son. The son's birth mother has recently died, and the stepmother is trying to establish a relationship with the child, who already has a close connection with Caroline. The title has a double meaning, referring to the myriad social changes swirling around the family and a family argument surrounding the spare change perpetually found in the boy's pants pockets."
The work is somewhat inspired by a woman from Kushner's childhood. The first draft that he gave to Tesori was text in all lower-case.
"It's written, of course, in verse, but there were very few spaces," Tesori previously said of Kushner. "Physically, it was really quite something to read through because I'm so used to the distinction between the book of a piece and the lyrics and Tony defies that tradition. He said, 'I don't believe in upper-case, I don't know what that means.' He's tremendously careful about punctuation, he's just a caring and careful writer that way, in terms of language. We would discuss beats, ad nauseam, about what exactly we thought this character was going for and why there might be a stop here. It was a kind of directing. It was so...tedious and wonderful at the same time. I would have him read things to me a lot, so I could hear his intent, not as an actor but as a writer, and that I found tremendously helpful. I did that a lot with the actors. I had them read, read, read, so I could really find out. George did that a lot in the very beginning."