Change comes slowly as evidenced in the Tony-winning Broadway musical, “Caroline or Change,” currently playing at Spinning Tree Theatre in the Black Box theatre of the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.
Running through Nov. 24, the musical focuses on the idea of change, resistance to change, and the process of change. Main character, Caroline works as a jill-of-all-jobs for a Jewish family in Louisiana. The house where she works, the only one with a basement, allows her the privacy to wash, dry, and press the resident’s clothes in her underground day job. Set in 1963, Caroline works for $30 per week, causing struggles to pay bills, raise her family, and afford a TV for the family.
“Caroline or Change” throws many levels of meaning and notions at the audience and in a different way than most musicals. This one follows the more contemporary style of operatic in nature. No, it’s not the big numbers in a foreign language, but over 90 percent of dialogue is sung. No glitz or glamour in the show, “Caroline or Change” presents a realistic look at two families at a time of mass cultural change in America.
Finders-keepers represents the first meaning of change as Caroline is told to keep whatever money she finds in the laundry. Then there is the social change of the time-period as the Civil Rights Movement gains strength. Conflict between Jewish and African-Americans people comes to the forefront in a scene. As always, the racial changes in America between blacks and whites continues to evolve, slowly. Relationships change over time as well. Children grow up; spouses die, step-parents join a family, So, “Caroline or Change” represents the myriad of changes that come into one house and the way they affect Caroline.
Strong-minded, determined, Caroline resists so many of the changes she sees. Grounded in her job, her position, her religion, she see’s stability and pride in her work, confronts changes forced upon her, yet avoids evolving to fresher pastures.
One of the most heart=felt moments in the show comes when Caroline saves three quarters from the pockets of the laundry and immediately gives the money to her three children to treat themselves presents beyond what her paycheck allows. The change from the pockets bring mood and attitude change to her children. That’s just another element of the changes in the story.
For this production, Spinning Tree secured great talent that contributed in making the show a success. With this production being the Kansas City debut of this musical, casting allowed actors to bring a unique perspective to characters. There were no previous versions to compare, so each characterization comes fresh and newly crafted.
The show demands strong vocal performances from every cast member, and accordingly, the vocalists excel in every song. What’s different is that each main character, though part of a family must also project the isolation of their character and the changes that he or she struggles to overcome. The unspoken change and emotional isolation in regards to relationships displays the slow evolution of changes inside a family and also in society. The concept sounds simple, yet in reality remains difficult.
By far, the standout performance comes from Illeana Kirven as Caroline. Upon her shoulders and voice the whole story revolves. Kirven said she played the part 13 years ago but approached this production with new vitality and searched for new depth and meaning in each line of lyrics. Her performance is astounding. Her vocals, incredible. Her character of Caroline must dominate the story, and it does.
Her supporting cast all possess fantastic voices and most are well-known to the KC theatre scene. That not yet well-known soon will be. There time awaits. There is not a weak performance in the entire show.
The cast is: Illeana Kirven stars as Caroline Thibodeaux. The cast also includes Jennifer Mays, Angela Hagenbach, Robert J. Hingula, Marilyn Lynch, Valen Jurkowski, Maya Strickland, Keshana Cook, Victoria Barbee, Douglass Walker, Ruth Bigus, Evan Gamsu and Jacquelyn Price. Caroline’s younger children will be played by members of Kansas City’s Drama Time performing arts organization.
Spinning Tree Artistic Director Michael Grayman-Parkhurst directs, with music direction by Brad Foster. The creative and design team includes scenic designer Atif Rome, costume designer Kristin Cook, lighting designer Rachael Carney, properties designer Eric Palmquist, dramaturg Melonnie Walker and stage manager Betsy Wendorff.
Tickets may be purchased at the door or through the Spinning Tree Theatre website. www.spinningtreetheatre.com
Tags: “Caroline or Change” review, Spinning Tree Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment