Aroline, Or Change, A New Musical

REVIEW by Willard Manus

AROLINE, OR CHANGE, A NEW MUSICAL could almost be called an opera. Almost entirely sung through, the show also has numerous extended arias that go much deeper than the usual showtunes in conveying emotion and thought, if only because the lyrics (and book) were written by Tony Kushner, the brilliant playwright whose body of work includes Angels in America. CAROLINE is an autobiographical work that deals with his childhood in segregated Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Set in 1963, during the ferment of the Civil Rights movement (and just before JFK was assassinated), CAROLINE focuses on Caroline Thibodeaux (the fabulous Tonya Pinkins), the acerbic but doughty African-American maid who pretty much holds the Gellman household together. Caroline, a single mother not only has three children of her own, the eldest of whom, Emmie (Anika Noni Rose, also fabulous), is in rebellion against her, but is a surrogate mother to the Gellman's only child, 13-year-old Noah (Benjamin Platt). The dynamics of social and personal change are powerfully dramatized by Kushner, whose words are set to Jeanine Tesori's electrifying rhythms. George C. Wolfe's direction, Riccardo Hernandez's set and Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer's lights are equally astonishing. Ahmanson Theatre, call (213) 628-2772.