“Caroline, or Change,” the recipient of six Tony nominations and the recipient of British theatre’s Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 2007 will open Thursday at Creative Cauldron where theatergoers will hear all music ranging from spiritual to Motown, classical, Jewish klezmer and folk.
No other female composer has composed as many Broadway musicals or received as many Tony nominations as “Caroline’s” Jeanine Tesori. The music sets the stage to carry out the plot set in 1963 right after JFK’s assassination when the U.S. underwent cultural and racial clash and change.
Calling it “one of the most powerful and unique musicals ever written,” Cauldron’s producing director, Laura Connors Hull, describes the production as “so much more” than the relationship between a black maid and a young Jewish boy in a Louisiana home.
“It’s somewhat of a history lesson about the forces of change and how those forces can impact individuals.” The playwright, Pulitzer Prize winning Tony Kushner, drew from his own experiences growing up in Louisiana, which “hit home with me on so many levels,” wrote Iyona Blake, an Arlington native, who plays Caroline.
“I remember as a young black girl seeing my grandmother (Queen Dunbar), as well as my aunts returning home a from a long day caring for white folks” whose needs superseded their own.
Like her other grandmother, Hazel Garner who traveled around the world singing gospel, Blake is an international singer, too, and also teaches musical theater at Howard University.
“This story isn’t a new story,” Blake wrote in an email, but “it’s my history” and that of many others. Caroline is a victim of domestic abuse, a single mother raising four children alone, while working as a domestic and earning $30 a week.
Blake began her acting career at the YMCA in South Arlington and participated in Arlington’s Street Theatre. She attended DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts and studied at Shenandoah Conservatory. If the 1960s seem like an easier period to “dress” than other eras, it actually can be more difficult, according to costumer and set designer, Margie Jervis who’s in her seventh season at Creative Cauldron.
That’s because the time is “well documented and still within many audience member’s memory,” however, one advantage is the clothing lines then “are not very complicated or detailed” like, for example, 1800s apparel.
Jervis and stage manager Christopher Riherd “scour” second hand shops looking for styles to modify and use.
Designing costumes for 13 characters that include a washing machine, dryer, radio, bus, and moon who each wear more than one outfit, demanded special gear and attention, especially considering the theatre’s tiny budget and the time constraints placed upon characters to change between scenes.
Jervis credits the generosity of Little Theater of Alexandria for its loan of special period costume pieces. “The most important thing about costume design,” wrote Jervis in an email “is to define the characters and to create something visually delicious for the audience.”
And she welcomes volunteers!
“Caroline, or Change” runs from May 5 – May 29 at 8 p.m., Thursday – Saturday, with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.