Review Round Up: Caroline, Or Change, Studio 54

We round up the reviews for the Broadway revival of the musical from Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori.

The NY Times: “An electrifying revival of the 2003 musical, featuring a titanic performance by Sharon D Clarke, follows the money to the source of American inequality.”

Time Out: **** “Clarke’s grounded, moving performance provides much-needed ballast to a production that, in other regards, often gets in its own way. The cast sings gloriously, but British director Michael Longhurst—perhaps worried that audiences will get bored, or beholden to some notion of what Broadway musicals should look and sound like—pushes nearly everything and everyone too hard.”

New York “Sharon D Clarke will. This is not just because of her deeply felt, piercingly sung arias. It’s her embodiment of Caroline in her ordinary, everyday moments, down in the heat of the basement doing laundry, or in the heat of the kitchen. If Clarke’s performance can be called weighty, it’s because we see her character as weighed down by her lot in life, by her resentments, and by her fear of a world that’s at the cusp of change – a change that she doesn’t trust.”

Variety: “Caroline’s daughter Emmie (Samantha Williams), however, fiercely serves as this story’s change agent. She’s instrumental in helping her mother revaluate her antiquated beliefs and works to fight the systems that had her mother believing them in the first place. Williams delicately conquers a role that previously secured Anika Noni Rose her first Tony Award, making this role her own with a youthful energy and gentle grace.”

Hollywood Reporter: “The magnificence of Clarke’s wrenching performance is never more startling than in those moments in the aria, titled “Lot’s Wife,” where she soars to a raging crescendo and then reins in the torrent of feeling back to hushed confessional intimacy.”

NY Stage Review: **** “If there are a few slow-moving moments in Longhurst’s production, the payoff is big; it’s unlikely that anyone with a beating heart will leave after Act Two without moist eyes, or at least a lump in the throat. That’s not because of the sadness in Kushner’s story, of which there is plenty; it’s because of the sense of hope that ultimately cuts through it, blazing through the final number. It’s not easy to juggle despair and exuberance without resorting to sentimentality, and Caroline still manages the task handily.”

Deadline: “Directed by Michael Longhurst with intensity and sensitivity, and performed by a cast that seems to have made a pact to sustain itself at the towering heights achieved early and unfailingly by its mighty star Sharon D Clarke, this Caroline, Or Change is a hurricane wind unleashed on decrepit legacies and newfound cautions.”

Vulture: “Eighteen years ago, the musical had a little more … hope in it. As Kushner has noted, the story has always been Caroline’s tragedy, but in 2003, it used Emmie and Jackie and even Noah to point at possibilities of the non-tragic to come. The musical still ends the same way, but in the audience, we know the U.S. continues to display its own immobility, its own dogged resistance to change. Longhurst’s production is therefore brave enough not to brighten, not even at the curtain call.”

amNY: “Some of director Michael Longhurst’s ideas pay off (displaying the town’s statute of a Confederate soldier both before and after it is vandalized, emphasizing the swampy physical environment, a post-climactic rainfall special effect) and others are awkwardly inserted and strained (having many scenes performed on a narrow balcony level, incorporating a turntable). “Caroline, or Change” ought to be better appreciated today. Not only have people had more time to absorb its score, its plot (which reflects upon systemic and unconscious racism) speaks directly and powerfully to the current cultural moment.”

The Daily Beast: “The collision of musical styles and Kushner’s clever, witty lyricism makes Caroline, Or Change a haunting, unforgettable musical.” “If masterful theatre is measured by its ability to leave an audience reeling in catharsis, it is here that this production of Caroline, or Change emerges as an honor to experience, and a joy to have borne witness.”

The Wrap: “Longhurst’s revival is strongly sung, led by the astounding vocals of Sharon D. Clarke in the title role. One of the delights of “Caroline” is watching household objects come to life in an adult musical, and it’s hard to imagine the prominent roles of the Washing Machine (Arica Jackson), the Radio (Nasia Thomas, Nya, and Harper Miles), the Moon (N’Kenge), and the Dryer and the Bus (Kevin S. McAllister) being more robustly impersonated vocally. Sitting through this “Caroline,” I often thought how superior the singing here was to the Met Opera’s new “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.””

Broadway News: “Clarke imbues the character with a quiet but smoldering intensity that galvanizes the musical into vivid, almost nerve-rattling life whenever she is center stage.”

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