Caroline, or Change

Book & Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Mitchell Butel

23 August to 28 September 2019
Hayes Theatre

Starring Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline, Nkechi Anele, Andrew Cutcliffe, Alexandra Fricot, Amy Hack, Daniel Harris, Emily Havea, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva Ngwenya, Elijah Williams and Ryan Yeates


Production photo of Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline by Phil Erbacher

Not sure about this one. Relentless. Blasting music, inter-cut scenes, not a pause to be seen. The only time the audience has time to breathe is right near the end when Caroline sings a song alone on the stage in a strange wrestle-with-myself-and-fling-my-handbag-around. The audience is so shocked at this that they applause. But by then it’s too late.

Like a theatrical Oprah Winfrey Show. Like a Motown Sondheim but with little wit or subtlety.  No light or shade (ironic, really, given the prominence of La Luna) and, sorry to say, no real emotion. Flat. The most poignant song for me was the dad’s song (Anthony Cutcliffe) to his son which is sad considering there were so many woman singing and dancing their hearts out the whole night.

At interval, my friend turned to me and said: There’s no story. He had something there. This is a different kind of structure to musicals Australian audiences are familiar with. The idea is to blast emotion at you. Spinal Taps’ up to 11 all the way. And we’ll be washed along without having to think too much. And in the end we’ll walk out thinking everything’s OK.

Such massive events and emotions touched on  – swelling Civil rights movement, death of JFK, Korean war – but they never quite make it. Small boy (Ryan Yeates as Noah) calling Caroline the President just didn’t gel even though it clunkily flags later reference to JFK.

One of the most beautiful moments was the very beginning. Low lights. Sound of frogs. Caroline standing, staring straight ahead. Backdrop of full moon and Moon Lady (a satin-draped Ruva Ngwenya) are exquisite.

Fragmented stage reflected frenzied score. 3 doowop girls in sequins pays homage to Little Shop of Horrors. Or is a rip-off. Neurotic Jewish family. Well, that’s kinda been done. And overblown lyrics towards the end suddenly trying to wrap up the story – in fact, trying to get a story in there somewhere –  is awkward.

Then there’s a protagonist who doesn’t change. That’s just weird.

Yes, she is a rock. She will be the mother of African Americans who change history. So being a grumpy maid is more than enough. Is that it?

Strong performances – cast was not the problem. Interesting, complex, eclectic music. But sound was muffled particularly in the opening scene with the wolf/devil/evil husband whoever he was. And why did they sometimes say “Caroline” and other times call her “Carolyn”? Is that a Southern thing? And that comma in the title really gets me!

Strangely dissatisfying.


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