Caroline, or Change

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Caroline, or Change
Music Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics Tony Kushner
Book Tony Kushner
Productions 2003 Off-Broadway
2004 Broadway
2006 London
2009 Guthrie Theater
2012 Berkeley Street Theatre
Awards Olivier Award Best Musical

Caroline, or Change is a through-composed musical with book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and score by Jeanine Tesori that combines spirituals, blues, Motown, classical music, and Jewish klezmer and folk music.

The show ran both Off-Broadway and On Broadway as well as in London.

Production history[edit]

The musical was first workshopped in May 1992 at New York's off-Broadway Public Theater. Director George C. Wolfe continued to workshop the musical at the Public Theater, where it opened on November 30, 2003 and closed on February 1, 2004.[1][2]

It transferred to Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on May 2, 2004 and closed on August 29, 2004 after 136 performances and 22 previews. The musical starred Tonya Pinkins in the title role, Anika Noni Rose as Emmie Thibodeaux, Harrison Chad as Noah Gellman, Veanne Cox as Rose Stopnick Gellman and Chandra Wilson as Dotty Moffett. (all both off-and on-Broadway). The choreographer was Hope Clarke; scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by Paul Tazewell; and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Despite its relatively short run, it was critically acclaimed[3] and nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Opening in October 2006, a London production at the National Theatre on the Lyttelton stage, also directed by Wolfe, ran in repertory with Marianne Elliot's production of Thérèse Raquin to January 2007. The production did not transfer to the West End but did win the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The opening night cast in London starred Tonya Pinkins as Caroline. Other cast members included Pippa Bennett-Warner as Emmie Thibodeaux, Anna Francolini as Rose Stopnick Gellman, Hilton McRae as Mr. Stopnick, Perry Millward, Jonny Weldon and Greg Bernstein alternating as Noah and Clive Rowe as the dryer/bus.[4]

Regional theatre[edit]

Pinkins and Anika Noni Rose (Emmie Thibodeaux) reprised their roles in late 2004 at the Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, California[5] and in early 2005 at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco, California.[6] The Chicago premiere at the Court Theatre in fall 2008 earned four Jeff awards,[7] for director Charles Newell, Musical Director Doug Peck, star E. Faye Butler, and best production of a musical at a large scale theater.

The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts (GHAA) became the first high school to perform Caroline, Or Change. It ran in December 2011 in Hartford, CT

Other regional productions have included Center Stage, Baltimore, Maryland, in December 2008-January 2009 with E. Faye Butler;[8] the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April–June 2009,[9] the Gallery Players, Brooklyn, N.Y., January–February 2010, The Human Race Theatre Company, Dayton, Ohio November 4–20, 2011., and Syracuse Stage (Syracuse, NY) February 1-February 26, 2012.

A 2012 production by Acting Up Stage Company in Toronto, Ontario garnered Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Sterling Jarvis and Arlene Duncan.[10]


The musical is set in 1963 in Lake Charles, Louisiana during the American civil rights movement, November–December 1963, encompassing the time of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Caroline Thibodeaux is a black maid for a Jewish family, the Gellmans, spending her days in their dank basement doing the laundry for the pitiful sum of $30 a week. The Gellmans' young son, Noah, has a strong emotional connection to Caroline, a single parent who remains stoic amid the sweep of change she sees around her. Regardless of the circumstances, whether it is the death of a president, her daughter's growing activism and misunderstood dismissal of what she perceives to be Caroline's choice to remain a maid, her son's enlistment in Vietnam, a fight with a newly college-bound friend, or a spin with the dryer, Caroline remains unflappable. She provides stability during Noah's grief at his mother's death from cancer, and her constant anger appeals to his constant sorrow. Noah's new stepmother Rose, unable to give Caroline a raise, enlists Caroline's help in a plan to teach Noah a lesson about leaving change in his pants pocket. Rose tells Noah and Caroline that Caroline should keep the money Noah leaves in his pockets. Caroline loathes the unintended humiliation of taking money from a child—but her own children lack money for toys, sweets, dentistry, and Christmas presents, and she is late with the rent because her salary has gone toward two special meals for her children. As an experiment and while fantasizing to exchange his isolating family for the imagined compassion of hers, Noah deliberately leaves money in his pockets, dreaming that Caroline's family now talk about his generosity over dinner.

The lesson goes awry when the ownership of a $20 bill is contested in the laundry, and Caroline's relationship with eight-year-old Noah is irrevocably ruptured. After a week of reflection, with deep regret for harsh words spoken in anger, Caroline decides to return to her dehumanizing work as a maid. In a furious and broken prayer to God, she acknowledges that she'll never escape her circumstances, and she vows to crush her soul so that she can resist the pride that would grant her change but cost her the money that she needs to support her family. Against a background of the death of JFK, the Vietnam war, and the non-violent direct action protests organized by Martin Luther King, the tide of change continues to define Caroline's place in history, a working mother, bearing up under a broken marriage, economic hardship, and racial inequality. Forever a maid, her tragic destiny sears the memories of the two parted principals. The tragedy is ultimately offset by an epilogue, a heroic solo sung by her daughter Emmie, laying claim to the hope and determination for a better life for Caroline's appreciative and proud children.

Musical numbers[edit]


  • Caroline Thibodeaux: 39-year-old African-American maid for the Gellmans, a middle-class Jewish family
  • Noah Gellman: The Gellmans' 8-year-old curious, sympathetic, and neurotic son
  • Rose Stopnick Gellman: Noah's concerned new stepmother from New York City, marries Stuart after his first wife's death
  • Stuart Gellman: Professional clarinet player and Noah's father, mourning the loss of his wife
  • Emmie Thibodeaux: Caroline's 16-year-old free-spirited daughter, supporter of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement
  • Dotty Moffett: Friend of Caroline and fellow maid, takes night classes at the University
  • The Washing Machine: Domestic appliance portrayed by an actor, cleans clothes for the Gellmans and pushes Caroline to move forward in life
  • The Dryer: Domestic appliance portrayed by an actor, torments Caroline throughout the show
  • The Radio: Domestic appliance portrayed by a Supremes-like trio, serves as a Greek Chorus for the show
  • The Moon: Portrayed by an actor, is a calming and healing presence throughout the show
  • The Bus: Portrayed by an actor, is the primary source of transportation for the African-American characters in the show
  • Mr. Stopnick: Rose's father, a conservative Jewish man from New York City
  • Grandpa and Grandma Gellman: Noah's grandparents, Stuart's parents
  • Jackie Thibodeaux: Caroline's young son
  • Joe Thibodeaux: Caroline's young son

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2004 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Tony Kushner Nominated
Best Original Score Jeanine Tesori Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Tonya Pinkins Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Anika Noni Rose Won
Best Direction of a Musical George C. Wolfe Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Book of a Musical Tony Kushner Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Tonya Pinkins Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Anika Noni Rose Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical George C. Wolfe Nominated
Outstanding Music Jeanine Tesori Won

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category won Result
2007 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Won


  1. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Before Broadway, Caroline, or Change Ends Public Theater Run Feb. 1; Final Weekend Sold Out", February 1, 2004
  2. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review; Outsiders Bond in a South of Roiling Change" The New York Times, December 1, 2003
  3. ^ Sommer, Elyse."A CurtainUp Review: 'Caroline, or Change' ", May 3, 2004
  4. ^ Billington, Michael."Review:'Caroline, or Change' " The Guardian, October 20, 2006
  5. ^ Summary of article from Los Angeles Sentinel, December 15, 2004
  6. ^ Playbill, September 16, 2004
  7. ^ "Jeff Awards". Jeff Awards. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  8. ^ CenterStage listing
  9. ^ Guthrie listing
  10. ^ "‘Crash,’ ‘Caroline, or Change’ big winners at Dora Mavor Moore theatre awards". Canadian Press, June 25, 2012.

External links[edit]