Caroline, or Change at Center Stage

By Ben Ryland


If you have seen the wonderful documentary- Show Business: The Road To Broadway, it features Caroline, or Change along with the other nominees for the Best Musical Tony Award in 2005. The film follows the development of the show from inception to Tony night where it was a front runner more for its leading actress, the critic’s darling- Tonya Pinkins, than the show itself. The award went to Idina Menzel for WICKED the popular audience choice instead.


Caroline is a domestic for a Jewish family living in Louisiana in 1963. Try as they might to show equality to the woman in the turmoil and civil rights changes of the 60’s the family members are all left feet towards her. To teach their son to be more careful with his pocket money they offer the maid the coins in his pockets on laundry day instead of a raise. Caroline stubbornly resists the changes in the country failing to improve herself with new found opportunities even though friends are going to school and trading up jobs. She is borderline self-destructive towards most barring God and her own children’s dreams.


Playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori have attempted to tell a story of the times through those who accept or ignore change but the storyline only works on a superficial level. This is not an epic musical like Ragtime; this is more observational than reactionary and on a tiny scale.


One would assume that the popularity of the show is based on the staging, acting and the dynamics of the leading lady. With singing and dancing laundry appliances in the basement they are Caroline’s connection with the real world and its changes, not just the change in the kid’s pants pockets. The Supremes style singing group on the radio and on stage moves the story along more than the protagonist; a device that is limited and ultimately unfulfilling dramatically.


The staging here is the best part of the production along with the cast who can act and sing their underwritten roles. Directed by Baltimore native David Schweizer, he appears to know the limitations of the work but uses it to his best advantage. Regional theatre actress E. Faye Butler (fresh off her acclaimed run of the show in Chicago) breathes life into the role and sings the hell out of it too. Future directors take heed: Butler is astounding as Caroline and worth the price of a ticket. The rest of the cast with one exception is up to the task, but it’s Butler that brings the audience to their feet.


Caroline, or Change    CenterStage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore

Now until January 18th