Friday, February 11, 2005

Caroline or Change...

markosf , Judy and Kylie (though she snuck in JUST as lights came down and we didn't know she was there) saw "Caroline or Change..." at the Curran last night. I had to have the cast album a year ago, as it is the complete production, but listened to it twice maybe and put it aside. The score is pretty inaccessible, and since it was written by the woman who wrote/adapted "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (Jean Tesori), one has to conclude that the level of difficulty of the score is attributed to the book and lyrics by Tony Kushner.

However, on stage, it works wonderfully! So, one must credit the director, George C. Wolfe, for having brilliantly (yes, the "B" word!) staged the inner workings of Caroline's mind and soul. Listening to the score and reading about the special Obie winning performances of 'The Radio' didn't prepare me for how simply yet wonderfully staged the 'appliances' around Caroline are. The ensemble of the 'Washer,' the 'Dryer,' the 'Radio' and the 'Moon' were all wonderful and at moments, spectacular! However it is Tonya Perkins' performance of 'Caroline' (Tony nomination) that was angry and beautiful and fabulous and the centerpiece of the production! She was ripped off -- Idina Menzel won the Tony for "Wicked." Plus, she sounded MUCH BETTER than she did on the Tony Awards and on the album! She works the music so hard, that her voice has a lot of strain to it. It might be a conscious decision on her part to give 'Caroline' a harsher quality, but it can be a viscerally difficult and distracting sound. The production currently at the Curran features 90% of the original cast and the original production, which is a TREAT! Her daughter played by Anika Noni Rose (Tony award) was quite lovely and perhaps the most complex person on stage. It's a great role. Veanne Cox did a lovely job with the thankless role of 'Rose Gelbman,' Caroline's conflicted 'employer.' The kids in the show (and I must say I usually loathe stage-children) were quite good and never crossed that line of precociousness. The music for the children is really pretty complex, which probably keeps them from going into 'sparkle, Neely, sparkle!' mode. Plus, the employer's 9 year old son has the difficult role of being sort of the villain of the piece. Sort of.

Ay, there's the rub. As wonderful of an experience as I thought it was to see performed, the ambivalent nature of 'good and bad' within the play didn't compel me. Mind you, Caroline's BIG MOMENT in the second act can stand alone as an epiphany. However, there is a certain lack of tension in the drama leading up to it. On one hand, you have to admire that Kushner created a 'musical character study.' On the other hand, since it lacks a conflicting plot line, there isn't precise enough drama to drive a musical theme through out the evening. So I can see how it might leave people a little cold at the end of the night. It's a complex and challenging piece and sorting through all of that (the lyrics, the score, the surreal staging) can make for more work than enjoyment. Not that there's anything wrong with that... I'm just saying that I understand why "Wicked" won the Tony and is still running and "Caroline or Change..." did not and (fortunately for us!) closed and is on tour.


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