In October 2011, I travelled to Ohio to perform in the musical masterpiece Caroline, or Change at Dayton’s wonderful Human Race Theatre.
Caroline was written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America) with music by Jeanine Tesori (Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and originally produced by The Public Theatre in New York, followed by a critically acclaimed run on Broadway in 2004, which garnered six Tony nominations. Caroline also won the Olivier Award in London in 2007.
The play is set in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1963 on the cusp of the civil rights movement, and focuses on a black maid (Caroline) working for a middle class Jewish family. Kushner himself grew up in this very setting, and several characters are based on his upbringing, including a young boy, Noah Gellman (Kushner’s proxy), and his musician father, Stuart (my role). Kushner’s real father was in fact a clarinetist and later, conductor of the
Lake Charles Symphony.
The basic story centers on Noah’s carelessness with his pocket change and an agreement that gives Caroline permission to keep any money she finds in the laundry. But there is a much larger story surrounding this little family plot, where “change” has a whole different meaning. Tesori’s score is absolutely magical, ranging from R&B and Motown to folk and Klezmir.
We had a great cast, featuring Tanesha Gary as Caroline. Tanesha played “the Radio” in the Broadway and L.A. productions starring Tonya Pinkins. Also in the cast were Taprena Augustine, Kay Bosse, Brittany Campbell, Saul Caplan, Dwelvan David, Kimberly Shay Hamby, Ashanti J’Aria, Malachi-Phree J. Pate, Brendan Plate, J. Miguel Conrado Rojas, K.L. Storer, Shawn Storms, Tonya Thompson and Yvette Williams.