“Caroline, or Change, a 2004 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical (with music by Fun Home‘s Jeanine Tesori), is an amalgamation in all of the best American theatrical ways. Part blues rock opera with its finger on the pulse of the Civil Rights movement, part celebration of post-World War II Jewish survival and culture, with book and lyrics by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame, the work absolutely demands that audience members sit up and pay attention. It has a lot to say, much of it with a Southern Gothic aesthetic evocative of Tennessee Williams at his best.
Much of the Western world’s mid-20th Century social tensions are channeled through Caroline Thibodeaux (Rashada Dawn), a divorced mother of four and domestic worker serving in the employ of the Gellman family. The Thibodeauxs and the Gellmans are galaxies apart on the relative privilege spectrum, but both clans know loss, grief and of course, the experience of being culturally ‘othered.’ As the curtain lifts, audiences are exposed to the strange, but special relationship between 39-year-old Caroline, who confines her moments of spiritual peace to one cigarette per day, and eight-year-old Noah Gellman, who enthusiastically lights Caroline’s smokes and idealizes her as ‘stronger than a man.’
This characterization is both more and less true than the young, motherless Noah can fathom. Caroline’s internal struggles are expressed via song and short, terse verbal communications devoid of warmth. A domestic violence survivor with broken dreams who supports her family by taking her weary seat on the segregated bus to ‘wash white people’s clothes,’ the only kind of ‘change’ Caroline has known is the kind that asks her to do more with less.”