Bitter-Sweet Caroline: Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's New Musical Begins on Bway
By Kenneth Jones
Caroline, or Change, the unique musical character study that explores the bittersweet world of a black maid in Civil Rights-era Louisiana, begins its Broadway run April 12 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
Tonya Pinkins again plays the title character, emotionally caught between the values of the white family she works for and the black community whose hopes are shifting in 1963 — the era of JFK, Martin Luther King and Motown.
The musical had its world premiere at The Public Theater in fall 2003, and played an extended run there to Feb. 1. Composer Tesori told Playbill On-Line some textual and orchestral refinements have been made in the past six weeks.
George C. Wolfe again directs the work by librettist-lyricist Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and composer Tesori (Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie). Opening is May 2. A cast album is expected.
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: 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, Anika Noni Rose, Leon Thomas III, Chandra Wilson and Chuck Cooper.
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 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/Bergčre, Roger Berlind, Clear Channel Entertainment, Joan Cullman, Greg Holland/Scott Nederlander, Margo Lion, Daryl Roth, and Zollo/Sine in association with the Public Theater.
Tickets ($26-$101) are available through Telecharge.com online or by phone at (212) 239-6200.
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 told 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."
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