Thursday, May 25, 2006


Kushner's " Caroline, or Change" a Must See

One doesn't always associate Tony Kushner with the South, certainly I didn't, but his growing up near New Orleans is the core of this musical (he wrote the book and lyrics) entitled Caroline, or Change, currently playing at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, and directed by Greg Ganakas, quite seasoned but new to Studio Theatre.

The opening number Washer / Dryer (the music is by Jeanine Tesori, an award-winning composer, also wrote Thoroughly Modern Millie) sung by Julia Nixon, in a stellar performance, echoed the dangers of being 17 feet below sea level. It's good to note that Kushner's Caroline, or Change first played at the Public's Newman Theatre in October 2003, but then New Orleans has always known it was fragile. Sadly Katrina brought all of this to a mortifying reality; even more sad if not disgusting is that the levees are still not ready and June 1st is the start of the hurricane season.

The unjustice of the pre-Civil Rights era are up in your face in this play and the character Noah Gellman (played extremely well by Max Talisman) and Caroline Thibodeaux (played by Julia Nixon) hit the issue right on in the second act. Also noteworthy is the role of Rose Stopnick Gellman played by Tia Speros and her interactions between her son and Caroline. What I found superb in this play, aside from surprised that the lyrics and music could be so jazzy--remember I thought Kushner was from New York--, is that Kushner avoids the Hollywood approach to the play. This is not a sweet play that you can leave and feel good about; it is a play that makes you reflect and think about the interplay between classes, ethnic and religious groups and that is why I believe it will survive as a great play.

Yes, Kushner borrows from his previous plays: there is The Moon character, with echoes of the Angel from Angels in America, and there is the chorus a la Supremes as in The Little Shop of Horrors, but it works. But my partner, Ken Schellenberg described it best: "It's a cross between the seriousness of Angels in America and Hairspray but with a beat you dance to."

Kushner's Caroline, or Change is one you mustn't pass up because oddly and sadly enough the issues of class, ethnicity, and religious characterization are still very much present is the post-Civil Rights era.

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