Entertainment & Culture Theatre

Caroline, Or Change theatre review

Written by Christian Butler

An incredible new production of Caroline, Or Change is playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End.

This profound musical brings the struggles of a single parent to life in extraordinary fashion.

Finally in the West End

While the show previously played at the National Theatre in 2006, it never made the West End. This was despite winning Best Musical at the Olivier Awards. This new production premiered at the Chichester Festival last year. This paved the way for a transfer to the Hampstead Theatre. This transfer was deemed so successful that the show has now finally transferred to the West End. It keeps its original star, Sharon D. Clarke as Caroline.

The story

The musical is set in Louisiana, USA in 1963. The show focuses on Caroline, a black maid working for a Jewish family. The family’s eight-year-old son, Noah, idolises Caroline following the death of his mother. While Caroline struggles to care for her family on just $30 a week, she stumbles on to an unusual way to give her children extra cash. The ‘change’ of the show’s title is a pun on this spare change and the different changes the show portrays.

The score

The show’s score is an unusual collaboration. The music is written by Jeanine Tesori, writer of hits like Fun Home and Shrek The Musical. The lyrics and libretto are written by Tony Kushner, his only musical to date. He is a major acclaimed playwright of shows like Angels in America. Kushner’s text allows the musical to unfold much like a play. The action and characters subtly developing as the show progresses. The show saves flashy production numbers of huge moments of climax. Tesori’s diverse music includes gospel-style songs, but also klezmer (Jewish folk music) in sections with Noah’s family.

The cast

Sharon D. Clarke is a commanding presence as Caroline. She boldly portrays the pain of not trying not her hard life get to her. Her angst reaches literally biblical proportions in the show’s climax, ‘Lot’s Wife.’ The show also features some great kids, playing Noah and Caroline’s two sons. The rotating cast of children brilliantly tackle the show’s challenging score.

The production

Caroline’s sad story is lightened by the show’s surreal touches, with various inanimate objects being personified and bursting into song. For example, when she does the laundry, the washing machine and dryer sing with her. Caroline’s ‘change’ is set against that of society, highlighting her daughter’s role in the civil rights movement and the show’s referencing of JFK’s assassination. This layered musical is uniquely moving.

For tickets and more information about Caroline, or Change, visit carolineorchange.co.uk.

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