Caroline, or Change

Playhouse Theatre
Northumberland Avenue, London

Previewed: 20 November 2018
Opened: 17 December 2018
Closes: 2 March 2019

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Show times
Monday at 7.30pm
Tuesday at 7.30pm
Wednesday at 7.30m
Thursday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Friday at 7.30pm
Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Sunday no shows

Runs ? hours and ? minutes

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Caroline, or Change

The Chichester Festival Theatre's acclaimed production of the Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori musical Caroline, or Change in London starring Sharon D Clarke in the title role

Louisiana, 1963, in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. Caroline, a black maid to a southern Jewish family, is struggling to keep afloat both emotionally and economically, while the young son of her employer tried to make sense of the world folowing the death of his mother.

A musical exploration of human relationships, love, loss and social transformation.

The cast features Sharon D Clarke as 'Caroline Thibodeaux' (Naana Agyei-Ampadu as 'Caroline Thibodeaux' on Monday evening performances) with Abiona Omonua as 'Emmie Thibodeaux', Naana Agyei-Ampadu as 'Dotty Moffett', Me'sha Bryan as 'The Washing Machine', Dujonna Gift-Simms as 'Radio 1', Tanisha Spring as 'Radio 2', Keisha Amponsa Banson as 'Radio 3', Ako Mitchell as 'The Dryer' / 'The Bus', Angela Caesar as 'The Moon', Alastair Brookshaw as 'Stuart Gellman', Vincent Pirillo as 'Grandpa Gellman', Sue Kelvin as 'Grandma Gellman', Lauren Ward as 'Rose Stopnick Gellman', Teddy Kempner as 'Mr. Stopnick', Jack Meredith, Isaac Forward and Aaron Gelkoff as 'Noah Gellman', Kenyah Sandy, Mark Mwangi and Jeremiah Waysome as 'Jackie Thibodeaux', and Josiah Choto, David Dube and Raphael Higgins-Humes as 'Joe Thibodeaux'. Directed by Michael Longhurst with designs by Fly Davis, choreography by Ann Yee, lighting by Jack Knowles and sound by Paul Arditti.

Sharon D. Clarke's London theatre credits include the role of 'Mariah' in Timothy Sheader's revival of the Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2014; the role of 'Oda Mae Brown' in Matthew Warchus' stage musical vesion of Ghost at the Piccadilly Theatre in 2011; the role of 'Mama Morton' in Walter Bobbie's revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre in 2004; the role of 'Killer Queen' in Christopher Renshaw's production of Ben Elton's Queen musical We Will Rock You at the Dominion in 2002; the role of 'Rafiki' in the stage musical The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in 2000; the role of 'Rose' in Julia McKenzie's production of the musical version of Richard Harris' Stepping Out at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre) in 1997; and the role of 'General Matilda B Cartwright' in Richard Eyre's revival of the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1996.

When this production opened here at the West End's Playhouse Theatre in December 2018, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph praised "Michael Longhurst's pitch-perfect revival... In one of the must-see performances of the year, Sharon D Clarke imbues her with tenacity, integrity and self-defeating wilfulness." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times hailed "this thrilling revival... Sharon D Clarke, magnificent in the title role." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard said that "Sharon D Clarke has long had one of theatre’s most resonant, authoritative voices. But here she astonishes, with a riveting portrait of a woman whose rock-hard stoicism is etched with pain. ... For Clarke, this daringly strange show is nothing less than a career-defining triumph. Her performance is vocally majestic, beautifully controlled and rich in its emotional truth."

"It's 1963; America is in ferment, yet nothing stirs in the basement of a Louisiana Jewish household, where Caroline (Sharon D Clarke), the African-American maid, suocates amid the laundry. The family's young son leaves coins in his pockets; to teach him thrift, his stepmother (Lauren Ward) says Caroline should keep any untidied change. A well-meaning gesture, it humiliates everyone, and leads to a horrible roar of hate and shame. Kushner's signature is his recognition that if people can change, so can the world. Yet Caroline can't, won't change. Michael Longhurst's superb production hits every note, from singing domestic appliances to family rancour, anchored by Sharon D Clarke, who is scorchingly powerful." The Sunday Times

"Down in a sweltering basement in 1963 in Louisiana, Caroline, a black maid, is doing the laundry for the Jewish family she works for. The scorching Sharon D Clarke wears a pressed white uniform and a thunderously glowering expression, simultaneously conveying her pride and her hurt... In Tony Kushner's wonderfully playful, personal and political, sung-through show, composer Jeanine Tesori gives everything and everyone their own distinctive rhythm and style - Motown, Yiddish klezmer, blues, gospel, soul, Christmas carols, folk anthems and even a bit of Mozart - creating an electrically eclectic musical patchwork to tell an affecting story about small change (nickels and dimes) and revolutionary change (racial equality)... Tesori's music, Fly Davis's imaginative costumes and designs, and knockout performances give Michael Longhurst's production a mighty, moving and magical impact." The Mail on Sunday

"A dancing washing machine, a singing moon, a trio of human radios sporting aerials on their heads - there is nothing run-of-the-mill about this ingenious, surreal and extraordinary musical. It's 1963 Louisiana, and black single mum Caroline is the maid for a Jewish family. Noah, the lonely eight-year-old who recently lost his mother, keeps leaving loose change in his pockets - and when his patronising stepmother Rose commands Caroline to keep any she finds, it creates turmoil. The political upheaval of the times lends a backdrop to the domestic drama that entraps Caroline, already at breaking point over her life of drudgery in the family's basement. But for all the quirks and powerful score, the world-class delivery by Sharon D Clarke as angry, majestic Caroline is what truly stuns." The Sunday Mirror

Tony Kushner, the writer of this musical, said: "This is a quasi-autobiographical piece, but beyond that I don't know quite how to characterise it. I think of it as a musical, but I also think of it as an opera. Essentially, you have a story about an African-American woman who works as a maid a Jewish family in the Deep South in 1963. It's a piece about change and about money in a certain sense and I think it's also about grief to a very great extent. I'm interested in why loss is an inexplicable component of moments of great transformation and great transition and how different people address themselves to those moments based on how able and capable of loss they happen to be. I grew up in a family with musicians: my mother recorded with Stravinsky, and my father was a Juilliard-trained clarinettist and orchestra conductor. Some of the pieces that the father in Caroline, or Change plays - the Rimsky-Korsakov and Mozart - are pieces my father used to play. I've always loved music and opera and musical theatre and had always wanted to do a piece of musical theatre. Shaw said that all literature aspires to the condition of music, and what he meant was those places that are not rational, not causal - where more conventionally intellectual parts of the brain stop and we go into some other place. These places are valuable because they lie beyond articulation; you're listening to the poetry of the unconscious - the articulate and the inarticulable in conversation with one another. My favourite musical is, I suppose, the saddest musical, West Side Story. Every year or so, my partner Mark and I put on the DVD and hold hands and sob at the end. You can't not."

When this production transferred to the Hampstead Theatre in London in March 2018, Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that "this is a modern masterpiece of considerable heft. This production, transferring from Chichester, is a rich asset for London theatre... Director Michael Longhurst's work is sinuous and stylish and amounts to a production of real grace... A very classy show." Sam Marlowe in the Times said this was "an almost entirely sungthrough story of race, religion and the grotesque economics of exploitation... Michael Longhurst's production is fluid, fantastical, yet emotionally immediate. And Sharon D Clarke is so nakedly unstinting in the title role that to watch her seems a privilege... Sensational." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail commented: "Many people love this musical. I found it a bore. Its attempts at quirky humour stray into silliness and whatever message it seeks to promote becomes lost amid competing themes... Miss Clarke only has one sumptuous singing moment, at the end. She does that well. What a pity it was the only time she was given some open road."

This production transferred to London's Hampstead Theatre - previewed from 12 March 2018, opened on 19 March 2018 and closed on 21 April 2018 - when the cast featured Sharon D. Clarke as 'Caroline Thibodeaux' with Abiona Omonua as 'Emmie Thibodeaux', Naana Agyei-Ampadu as 'Dotty Moffett', Me'sha Bryan as 'The Washing Machine', T'shan Williams as 'Radio 1', Sharon Rose as 'Radio 2', Carole Stennentt as 'Radio 3', Ako Mitchell as 'The Dryer' / 'The Bus', Angela Caesar as 'The Moon', Alastair Brookshaw as 'Stuart Gellman', Vincent Pirillo as 'Grandpa Gellman', Sue Kelvin as 'Grandma Gellman', Lauren Ward as 'Rose Stopnick Gellman' and Teddy Kempner as 'Mr Stopnick' along with Charlie Gallacher and Aaron Gelkoff as 'Noah Gellman', Kenyah Sandy and Mickell Stewart-Grimes as 'Jackie Thibodeaux', and Josiah Choto and David Dube as 'Joe Thibodeaux'.

When this production opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre's Minerva Theatre in West Sussex in May 2017, Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard praised how "Michael Longhurst's hugely accomplished revival is a high-grade treat... A profound and powerful evening." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times commented that, "what begins as quirky deepens into a piercing exploration of race relations, inequality and economics. Michael Longhurst's staging, with Sharon D. Clarke magnificent in the central role, controls the shift beautifully." Michael Billington in the Guardian said that the title character, Caroline, "is beautifully delivered by the incomparable Sharon D Clarke who, even in her silences, conveys the implacable, obdurate and deeply pious nature of the exploited maid... Michael Longhurst’s production has a miraculous fluidity and wittily shows the cast personifying inanimate objects such as washing machines, electric dryers and radios." Ann Treneman in the Times described it as being "a musical fantasia that manages to be great fun while also exploring the deep-fissure issues of race and class in America's Deep South... Sharon D Clarke gives a virtuoso performance as Caroline." Claire Allfree in the Daily Telegraph highlighted that, "beautifully staged and impeccably performed, this is an exceptional show."

This production was originally seen at the Chichester Festival Theatre's Minerva Theatre - previewed from 6 May 2017, opened on 11 May 2017 and closed on 3 June 2017 - when the cast featured Sharon D Clarke as 'Caroline Thibodeaux' with Abiona Omonua as 'Emmie Thibodeaux', Nicola Hughes as 'Dotty Moffett', Me’sha Bryan as 'The Washing Machine', Keisha Amponsa Banson as 'The Radio', Gloria Onitiri as 'The Radio', Jennifer Saayeng as 'The Radio', Ako Mitchell as 'The Dryer' / 'The Bus', Angela Caesar as 'The Moon', Alex Gaumond as 'Stuart Gellman', Vincent Pirillo as 'Grandpa Gellman', Beverley Klein as 'Grandma Gellman' Lauren Ward as 'Rose Stopnick Gellman' and Teddy Kempner as 'Mr Stopnick'.

Caroline, or Change in London at the Playhouse Theatre previewed from 20 November 2018, opened on 17 December 2018 and closes on 2 March 2019


Caroline, or Change - London Premiere - National Theatre 2006

Previewed 11 October 2006, Opened 19 October 2006, Closed 4 January 2007 (in repertory) at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre

The cast features Tonya Pinkins as 'Caroline Thibodeaux' with Malinda Parris as 'The Washing Machine', Ramona Keller as 'The Radio 1', Joy Malcolm as 'The Radio 2', Nataylia Roni as 'The Radio 3', Clive Rowe as 'The Dryer' / 'The Bus', Valda Aviks as 'Grandma Gellman', Ian Lavender as 'Grandpa Gellman', Anna Francolini as 'Rose Stopnick Gellman', Nora Cole as 'Dotty Moffett', Richard Henders as 'Stuart Gellman', Angela M Caesar as 'The Moon', Pippa Bennett-Warner as 'Emmie Thibodeaux', Hilton McRae as 'Mr Stopnick' along with Greg Bernstein / Perry Millward / Jonny Weldon a 'Noah Gellman', Ronald Chabvuka / Louis Ekoku / Mitchell Zhangazha as 'Jackie Thibodeaux' and Kazim Benson / Kuan Frye / Jamal Hope as 'Joe Thibodeaux'.

Directed by George C Wolfe with choreography by Hope Clarke, sets by Riccardo Hernández, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and sound by Mike Walker.

"In truth, the storyline doesn't amount to much - it's more of a fable. Divorced with three children to support, Caroline is the underpaid black maid in the Jewish Gellman household, spending much of her day in the basement laundry room. As Noah, the Gellmans' young son , observes, she's always angry, yet she is a crabby substitute for his deceased mother. His new stepmother, Rose, decides to break his habit of leaving loose change in his discarded clothes by decreeing that in future, Caroline may keep it. At first, the maid disdains her command and throws the change in the bleach cup, but as the cash adds up, the temptation-to spend it on her own deprived children grows. When Noah leaves his $20 Hanukkah gift in a pocket, the consequence is the most dramatic change of all - to the characters' relationships... Tony Kushner introduces fantasy sequences, so Caroline keeps company in the basement with singing personifications of the washing machine, the dryer and the radio. It could easily have all gone horribly wrong - but what carries the night is an exceptional cast... However, it is Tonya Pinkins' portrayal of Caroline, authentic in character and strong in voice, which sends the audience home happy." The London Evening Standard

"We are in the Deep South of Tony Kushner's home town of Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1963, at the moment of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. This was also the time of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, and what interests Kushner is America on the borderlines of sweeping ethnic and social change. But the change is also the cash a little boy leaves in his pocket for the family's black maid, Caroline, to retrieve and return or not. When I tell you that the formidable Clive Rowe plays both a bus and a tumble drier, and Malinda Parris plays a washing machine, you will gather that this is no ordinary musical. But the evening really belongs to Tonya Pinkins, making a stunning London debut in the title role... At the National Theatre, as in New York, the director is George C Wolfe, and he has done a powerful job on a powerful show. Jeanine Tesori's music, rich and versatile though it is, never quite soars to the dramatic heights of Kushner's book and lyrics but (Sondheim always apart) this is the most innovative and revolutionary American musical in years." The Daily Express

"There are so many things wrong with Caroline, or Change that it is hard to know where to begin. Probably one should start with Perry Millward. It is not done for critics to be unkind about child actors, but I am going to make an exception in the case of this little chap who looks and sings like Kermit the Frog, only he is slightly croakier and has marginally less stage presence. The tragedy is, playing the part of Noah, he is centre-stage for most of the time in this utterly abysmal musical directed by George C. Wolfe. Noah is an eight-year-old Jewish lad who has lost his mother to cancer, doesn't get along terribly well with his new stepmother Rose but has struck up a friendship with the family maid, Caroline. The wicked stepmother doesn't want to give Caroline a pay rise, so she tells her she can keep any money she finds in Noah's pockets. A row ensues over a $20 bill. The little brat is racially abusive to the maid and she, for her part, is anti-Semitic back. That is what might generously be called Tony Kushner's plot... In the programme notes Kushner says that when he first had the idea for this production he couldn't find the right way to tell it. Take it from me, he still hasn't and it's a pity he ever retrieved it from his bottom drawer... In principle one hasn't a problem with the idea of a musical being staged at the National Theatre so long as it is intelligent and professionally staged. This is demonstrably neither. Caroline, or Change suggests, at best, a serious lapse of quality control at what ought to be our greatest theatre and, at worst, that the National no longer knows what it ought to be about." The Sunday Telegraph

Caroline, or Change in London at the NT's Lyttelton Theatre previewed from 11 October 2006, opened on 19 October 2006 and closed on 4 January 2007 (in repertory)