Regional Theater Review: CAROLINE, OR CHANGE (PCPA Theaterfest in Santa Maria, CA)

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by Tony Frankel on September 2, 2011

in Theater-Regional

THE ONLY THING THAT MAY NEED A CHANGE IS THE TITLE

We hear that that the only thing constant is change, yet we struggle against change, we fight against change, and some are even willing to succumb to the unyielding stress of determined apathy rather than change. We live in a world that must change the way it consumes and change the way it looks at money. Some of the world is so desperate to change that revolutions are begun against established regimes without a new government to put in its place. Change comes fast. Change comes slow. But change comes. Caroline or Change - PCPA Theaterfest at Marian Theatre in Santa Maria, CA - regional theater review by Tony FrankelFor Tony Kushner’s Caroline, a divorced Louisiana maid who works in a hot basement, change is in the air. With three kids to feed in 1963, including a rebellious daughter, it is not this African-American maid’s hardscrabble existence that is eating away at her, but her defiant pride – a pride which threatens to consume her heart with a suffocating grip. And in PCPA’s thrilling production of Caroline, or Change, you will experience two of the most breathtaking and exhilarating moments ever seen in a Broadway musical, one which mourns the death of a President and one which mourns the death of a way of being, both stemming from the acceptance that change is upon us.

Caroline or Change - PCPA Theaterfest at Marian Theatre in Santa Maria, CA - regional theater review by Tony FrankelThere are no breakout numbers in Jeanine Tesori’s score; in fact, rare are the moments when the audience is given a chance to applaud.  The melodies are character-driven and come and go to fit the scene, with strains of Motown, hard-driving gospel, and klezmer, a welcome change from songs being incongruously inserted where they don’t belong. Caroline certainly received praise enough from critics and audience alike, yet it had a short life on Broadway. It’s difficult to encourage people to see a show where some of the characters are a washer, a dryer, a radio, and the moon, but they are necessary as a Greek chorus which articulates the calamities in Caroline’s universe. As such, this is a musical which may not be produced often, and PCPA, which depends on a subscription audience, was incredibly brave to add it to their season.

Caroline or Change - PCPA Theaterfest at Marian Theatre in Santa Maria, CA - regional theater review by Tony FrankelThe cast is exceptionally high standard, but Karole Foreman’s wrenching portrayal of Caroline and Frank Viveros’ mournful bus grip our souls to the core. Cicily Daniels could not emit a false note as both Caroline’s friend Dotty and the Washing Machine. Young lad Carter Thomas holds his own as Noah, the Jewish boy who constantly forgets to remove the change from his pockets, thereby setting into motion the play’s conflict.

Any devotee of the musical theatre simply must make the drive from Los Angeles to the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. Not only will you witness the transformation of musical theatre as we know it, but this poetic journey so brilliantly captures the upheaval of the 1960s that you will drive back home inspired, reflective and – dare I say it? – changed.

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Luis Escobar

Caroline, or Change
scheduled to end on September 18
for tickets, visit http://www.pcpa.org

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