OBIE, Lucille Lortel, Theatre World, Tony®, and Drama Desk award-winning musical Caroline, or Change just might be The Justice Theater Project’s most ambitious production yet. With a soaring score that is almost entirely through-sung, Caroline is more opera than standard musical. Weaving together the musical styles of rhythm and blues, old spirituals, classical music, and the occasional Jewish klezmer, Caroline takes the audience on a lyrical journey through the hearts and souls of its characters.
The story centers around Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Danielle J. Long), a victim of domestic abuse who fights back one day and is rewarded with abandonment. Left alone to care for four children in mid-20th century Louisiana, Caroline takes on some of the only work available at the time to African-American single mothers; she works as a maid for the Gellman family.
Along with doing laundry in a broiling basement — the only basement in town, as most of the area is below sea level — Caroline is charged with caring for Noah (played by bright-eyed Andrew Farmer), a quiet eight-year-old boy grieving for his recently deceased mother. Noah harbors a fascination with his taciturn maid, who allows him to light her cigarette once per day.
Desperate to belong, Noah begins leaving his allowance money change in his pants pockets for Caroline to find. This drives his stepmom Rose (Leslie-Anne Ball) to distraction; and as punishment she allows Caroline to keep the spare change. Underpaid and overworked, Caroline swallows her pride and takes the change, “pennies from a baby” as she puts it, much to Noah’s delight. That is, of course, until he leaves a large sum — his Hanukkah present — in his pants by accident, and racial and class issues reach a boiling point.
Set against the backdrop of the Kennedy Assassination in 1963, the show dives deep into the complicated inner lives of Americans going through a time of tremendous upheaval. The intense complexity of the score had some members of the cast visibly struggling, but most of the cast rose to the challenge with great effect.
Danielle Long does an excellent turn as Caroline, delivering emotional range along with the vocal acuity required of this landmark role. Leslie-Ann Ball shouldered a load herself, making the well-intentioned Rose both sympathetic and adversarial. Qualia Holder-Cozart shone as Emmie Thibodeaux, Caroline’s oldest daughter and far too much like her mother for there to be anything but contention between them.
Holder-Cozart’s clear vocals and sparkling stage presence made Emmie a delight to watch. Especially fun were the inanimate objects brought to life by actor characterizations. Maria Barber opens the show as the saucy Washer, and Taufiki Lee turns the heat all the way up as the Dryer. Dr. Joy L. Bryant entranced as the luminescent Moon, with soaring operatic vocals. The Radio (played by Lauren Foster-Lee, Micaela Shanyce Bundy, and Germona Sharp) also brought a lot of fun to the show, blending intricate harmonies with Tristan André Parks deft choreography. Among the regular characters, James Hale’s touching performance of widower Stuart Gellman moved, and Kyma Lassiter’s Dottie brought some wonderful comic relief to the languid mood of the show.
Music director Jackson Cooper leads the live orchestra well through this massive score, and together with Terra Hodges’ intuitive direction, the play moves well through both acts. The sprawling set provides multiple layers of locations, from the Thibodeaux house in the bayou to the pristine Gellman home, complete with basement area and upper bedroom for young Noah. Lighting effects by Latrice Lovett keep the audience focus moving through locations and characters; the moon effect was especially magical.
Through the intertwining of characters, this show is ostensibly about change — pocket change, changes in culture, changes of heart. On a broader scope, however, it explores the true meaning of value … and what kinds of change we can no longer afford to ignore. JTP’s production of Caroline, or Change runs through Sunday, June 23rd, at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC.
SECOND OPINION: June 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/caroline-change/; and May 23rd Cary, NC RDU on Stage video-podcast interview with director Terra Hodge, musical director Jackson Cooper, and actress Danielle J. Long, conducted by by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/2019/05/23/video-team-behind-jtps-caroline-or-change-talk-about-the-show-the-music-and-more/.
The Justice Theater Project presents CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at 7:30 p.m. June 14 and 15, 3:30 p.m. June 16, 7:30 p.m. June 2`, 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 22, and at 3:30 p.m. June 23 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.
TICKETS: $28 ($21 students and $24 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $21 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: http://www.etix.com/.
INFORMATION: 919-264-7089 or email@example.com.
SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/caroline-or-change and https://www.facebook.com/events/580667265750790/.
2018-19 SEASON: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/20182018-season-of-shows/.
PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Justice-Theater-Project/29290766458.
VENUE: http://upucc.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/UmsteadParkUCC.
NOTE 1: There will be preshow discussions and various other events before various performances. Click here and scroll down for details.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3:30 p.m. Sunday, June 16th, performance.
Caroline, or Change (2003 Off-Broadway, 2004 Broadway, and 2006 West End): https://carolineorchange.co.uk/ (official U.K. website), https://www.mtishows.com/caroline-or-change (Music Theatre International), http://iobdb.com/Production/3044 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/caroline-or-change-11284 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline,_or_Change (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.courttheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/PG_CarolineorChange.pdf (Court Theatre of Chicago).
Jeanine Tesori (Port Washington, NY-born composer): https://www.masterworksbroadway.com/artist/jeanine-tesori/ (Masterworks Broadway bio), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/4259 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jeanine-tesori-12488 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1507221/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanine_Tesori (Wikipedia).
Tony Kushner (New York, NY-born playwright, screenwriter, and lyricist): https://www.barclayagency.com/speakers/tony-kushner/ (Steven Barclay Agency bio), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2928 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tony-kushner-8918 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1065785/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Kushner (Wikipedia).
Terra Hodge (director): https://www.facebook.com/terra.hodge.7 (Facebook page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.