You are about to see, in my opinion, the results of a collaboration between two of the most genius theatrical writers currently working in the American theatre: Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori. And while any of us would be lucky to attend a show by either one of these artists, to experience their combined work is truly special. Tony and Jeanine’s partnership, director Michael Longhurst’s dazzling production, and the long-awaited Broadway debut of the magnificent Sharon D Clarke all make this Caroline, or Change a true theatre miracle.
Inspired by Tony’s childhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Caroline, or Change tells the story of two cultures in conversation with one another through the blending of dialects, customs, and musical styles. Jeanine’s score includes influences from folk songs, spirituals, soul, Klezmer, classical compositions, and traditional musical theatre, and it is a feast for the ears. Tony’s past, combined with his interest in American history and civic engagement, provides a specific, authentic commentary on the political and the personal through Caroline’s narrative.
When Caroline, or Change was first produced in 2003, it was received as a musical about looking back. The references to President Kennedy’s assassination, the Russians, and the woes of a small town slowly accepting the march toward progress that was a hallmark of the 1960s firmly planted it in the mid-20th century. Reviews of the original production used words like “historical” and “retrospective” to describe the show’s context, and rarely discussed how the content spoke to the present moment.
In light of our current political situation, however, Caroline, or Change feels urgent and necessary in 2020. This is the great joy of producing revivals: the discovery that a work of art can have a deeper, more immediate resonance in a new context, once it has had a chance to age. The roots of the civil rights movement in the American South have revealed themselves to be directly connected to the divides in our country today. National debates that lay dormant in 2003 have since been reignited—including specific debates about the presence of Confederate statues in Southern cities, an issue that the musical addresses. In Tony’s words, “I did take my best shot at guessing what might be of lasting significance, and I’m proud of that.” In addition to being theatrical and deeply emotional, Tony and Jeanine’s work is extraordinarily prescient.
I hope you enjoy Caroline, or Change. As always, I am eager to hear your reactions to the production, so please continue to email me at ArtisticOffice@roundabouttheatre.org with your thoughts. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!