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

caroline

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.

 

Sweeney Todd at Darling Harbour Theatre

anthony warlowSomething very wrong with this production.

Went last night. Memorable because we were KICKED OUT of our seats in the Dress Circle at 7.27PM and forcibly relocated downstairs – consequently about 100 poor souls were LOCKED OUT from opening scene – AND they had the audacity to reassure us: You’ll only miss one song. But that’s another story, thank you to management of ICC and TEG Life Life Touring for ruining the evening…

But back to the show.

Something very wrong. Anthony Warlow was brilliant. A rich, warm, voice; a menacing presence; he seemed to channel Len Cariou. Mesmerising.

The other cast members? Well, they were all over the place. Variable. They seemed to be singing in their own little solo worlds not to each other. Weird. Toby (Jonathan Hickey) was notably good. And barber shop duets with Sweeney and Judge Turpin (Daniel Sumegi) were spot on. As Mrs Lovett, Gina Riley was too nice.

The set was odd. The orchestra took up half the stage. Why?

I have seen countless productions of ST and this set was one of the ugliness and most non-functional. Why the round dining room table? Is that the best they could do? In the final scene, there is the build-up to Sweeney returning. Will he burst out of the oven? Or from below? Or from above?

Nah. He’s just been crouching behind everyone. He hops up on the little steps, stands on the dining room and that’s it. Lame.

Biggest disappointment was the BARBER’S CHAIR . This is everything. It should be the focus of dire violence and vengeance and Sweeney’s dashed hopes and dreams but this barber’s chair is absolutely pathetic. Even amateur productions make excellent use of a trap door so that Sweeney slashes his victim’s throat, pulls the lever and – wham! – they’re gone.

This production had Sweeney slashing throats (with not nearly enough blood) with the victims remaining in the chair, then standing up and walking off stage. ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC. The worst, most anti-climatic interpretation I have ever seen.

Staging was messy. The chorus gathered around that stupid dining room table were hard to place. Were we in the street? Were we in Fogg’s lunatic asylum? Why were some of the women wearing JEANS?? And when Sweeney was writing to Judge Turpin why was one of the chorus sitting at the dining room table mimicking his writing??

Again, Anthony Warlow was brilliant but that’s about it. Strangely uncompelling and antiseptic with not nearly enough blood, gore, lust and passion.