THEATRE REVIEW: Caroline, Or Change starring Sharon D. Clarke

WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2

WHERE: Hampstead Theatre

WHEN: 16/3, press night 19/3 runs to 21/4/18

UPDATE: Transfers to the Playhouse 20/11 to 6/4/19. Tickets

The original UK production of this Broadway hit won a Best New Musical Olivier Award and this revival transfers from Chichester where it earned much acclaim last year.

  • Read on for reasons including details of how to buy tickets for its West End transfer

If you needed just one good reason to see this, we’d suggest Sharon D. Clarke whose recent performances in Ma Rainey at the National, Pigs and Dogs (Royal Court) and The Life (Southwark Playhouse) are reviewed on this site.

Without wishing to give too much away, there’s a section at the end of this two-hour-and-25-minute musical, including interval, where D.Clarke sings so well and with such emotion that the audience adulation is deafening.

The story is simple. Spoilt child Noah (here a charismatic Aaron Gelkoff) leaves change in his pockets for hard-up maid Caroline (D.Clarke, probably our most reliably wonderful musical theatre actress) in 1963 Louisiana.

The musical is sung-through and there are fantasy sequences in Noah’s basement featuring a radio consisting of a Motown-inspired girl group (including Carole Stennett and T’shan Williams, also reviewed elsewhere on this site) which thrill.

Noah’s Jewish background is evoked with much enthusiasm by folk music featuring Lauren Ward and Teddy Kempner as his stepmother and her father respectively.

Director Michael Longhurst (Gloria at this venue) has much fun with the staging which includes a singing moon dangling from the ceiling featuring in many numbers.

There are big themes here about racial subjugation and change and they are absolutely not ducked as we get to know Caroline’s family and walk in their shoes. Daughter Emmie (Abiona Omonua, is a name to watch for in future) is not prepared to watch in anger as her mother has done.

This musical’s book and lyrics is by Tony Kushner who wrote Angels In America, such a triumph in both its parts at the National last year.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect but, together with co-writer Jeanine Tesori, he’s created something as memorable that couldn’t be more different.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Hampstead Theatre. Tickets
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