Sharon D. Clarke reprises her role as Caroline in the poignant and life-affirming musical Caroline, Or Change and it proves to be a thought-provoking piece of theatre.
It’s 1960s Louisiana and we are introduced to Caroline, a black maid in a liberal Jewish household who spends her days in the family’s basement. With the company of the washing machine, dryer and radio, she lives a pretty simple life.
During the show we are immersed into the lives of the Gellman’s, a Jewish family made up of a widowed father, his son and his new wife Rose. Noah adores their maid Caroline, a strong stubborn woman who works hard for her $30 a month to take care of her four children. The story follows Caroline and her resistance to change as she just tries to get by.
It’s a moving storyline despite the narrative lacking substance, not much happens yet we become captivated by Caroline. Sharon D. Clarke takes on the powerhouse role and her stage presence is just remarkable. She completely encapsulates every member of the audience with her commanding characterisation as the way she holds silence is just extraordinary.
Clarke gives us everything, as she depicts Caroline’s conflict, pain and deep love through her multitude of emotions. Her relationship with her daughter Emmie (Abiona Omonua) is touching to watch unfold as they clash and attempt to understand each other as Emmie is desperate to fight for change. Omonua is a remarkable young actor that gives a genuine performance with a whole lot of heart.
It’s a story about humans and real life, but there are some abstract and dreamlike moments in the production too when the kitchen appliances come to life. Clarke is alone working down in the basement and suddenly the radio, the washer and the dryer come to life to both comfort and torment her.
The kids in this production are a huge part of the narrative and they are truly phenomenal. Aaron Gelkoff played young Jewish boy Noah when I saw it and he brought so much character to the role as the intrigued young boy curious as to the way the world works. His voice was crisp and sustained some pretty strong numbers throughout the show. Caroline’s young boys Jackie (Kenyah Sandy) and Joe (David Dube) filled the stage with their charismatic, cool and carefree performance.
Jeanine Tesori’s music is what makes the production so powerful. She strikes the perfect balance as she manages to bring out the raw emotion but lift it up with empowering soulful numbers. Sharon D. Clarke sings her mighty numbers with passion and poignant emotion.