Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Caroline, or Change

Michael Levinson, Arlene Duncan
(Photographer: Joanna Akyol)

Caroline's washing
A blend of fact and fantasy makes Caroline, or Change a winner
by Mary Lea

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Caroline, or Change, is not your typical musical. It is a piece that has the potential to move and inspire. Acting UP Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre Company are two powerhouses. It was a fantastic pairing.  I loved Tony Kushner's writing, Jeanine Tesori's music and the direction that Robert Mcqueen envisioned for this piece. I can’t possibly leave this man out: Reza Jacobs' musical direction was absolutely on point. 
I found myself bursting into tears on and off throughout the musical -  tears of joy, to see so many talented artists tackling a very challenging piece.

Caroline, or Change is about a woman who could so easily be related to single mothers in our present day; single mothers struggling to make ends meet, working one job that doesn’t pay enough, or having to stretch money so that their kids can eat. Indeed, anyone who struggles will understand this work. 

The piece is set in 1963. Arlene Duncan's earth-shattering performance as the title character takes us through the struggle of being a black woman, working as a maid for a Jewish family in the South, being divorced and having to feed her three children.  Duncan’s voice comes from deep within her soul, grounded and raw.  I couldn’t keep my eyes off her - she was present even when she wasn’t singing. 

Caroline, or Change touches upon racism, money, status and, especially, change; every character is affected by change. For instance Noah (Michael Levinson) suffers from the loss of his mother, the changes brought by the civil rights movement and the assassination of JFK. But there is also fantasy blended into the piece, with the appliances coming to life.

Kimberly Purtell’s lighting is absolutely beautiful and three dimensional. The costumes take you all the way back to the 1960's as designer Alex Amini works in the realm of fact and fantasy. Brighter colours for the radio, the moon and the washing machine and softer colours for the central world are very effective. 

The cast, as a whole, was both talented and strong; it was an inspiration to watch these characters unfold through their own journeys. I found myself bursting into tears on and off throughout the musical -  tears of joy, to see so many talented artists tackling a very challenging piece.  

Neema Bickserteth embodies the moon and her voice is absolutely breath-taking to the point where I broke into tears. It just hits you on a visceral level. Sabryn Rock more than rocks the house. Rock's presence was so alive and powerful and she ends the show with a bang! Sterling Jarvis is so smooth it was mind-blowing.  If my washing machine sang like Londa Larmond, I would be one happy camper. Larmond is electrifying, soulful, sultry and hot! Deborah Hay is a veteran to the stage; she turns in a character who is complex, sensitive, open and just wants some lovin’. Hay was always internally alive. Alana Hibbert is not afraid to be big. Hibbert’s energy brightens up the stage; she's funny and quirky.

Caroline, or Change will take you on a ride. It is this year's must-see. 

Caroline, or Change continues to February 10

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