Friday, May 20, 2022

‘Caroline Or Change’: On Broadway Sharon D Clarke Brings New Life to An Ever Changing Society

Caroline or Change

*Roundabout Theatre Company has brought the musical masterpiece, CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, back to Broadway for a very limited engagement, with a cast led by London’s three-time Olivier Award-winner Sharon D Clarke, who delivers “a performance that people will talk about forever” (Theatermania).

This story of a Black woman working as a maid for a Jewish family in 1963 Louisiana—created by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner and Tony Award® winner Jeanine Tesori—pulses with the urgency and passion that’s shaping the world today.

EURweb sat down, at a virtual roundtable, with Sharon D Clarke, for an exclusive insight into the production of the show and what bringing this show to Broadway was like for her. Sharon D Clarke brings a unique dynamism and power to the role of Caroline Thibodeaux that sweeps the audience directly and full-heartedly, into the musical completely.

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In the exclusive roundtable interview, Sharon D Clark was asked, “What can the audience expect who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this dynamic performance of yours yet; and what do you hope people can get out of experiencing CAROLINE OR CHANGE, live, on such an iconic stage as Studio 54?”

Sharon D Clarke said: “To me, CAROLINE OR CHANGE seems to be a very simple story. But, it’s very epic. You know, ultimately, Caroline is a story about sorrow, anger and grief.”

Caroline or Change
Sharon D Clarke and cast in Caroline, or Change

Sharon D Clarke went on to explain that the root of the show happens in the midst of a burgeoning civil rights movement, the assassination of JFK, all whilst there is change sweeping the country. She said its meaning comes from “Caroline’s resistance to change. The small pocket change in Noah’s pockets, that promotes this journey. It is also all change in all of its many forms, in all of its glory, in all of its precious forms, in all of its pressure, in all of its hope. CAROLINE OR CHANGE.”

She then goes on to say that “You know, Caroline can change, stay in one place or move on and it’s that complex, but yet that simple!” Fast forward to 2021, change is sweeping the country again as we are again in the midst of a racial reckoning; we’ve had the summer of the Black Lives Matter Movement, George Floyd’s murder and other pivotal moments that have shaped and impacted all of us over the last few years.

So, change is again, in the air. CAROLINE OR CHANGE deals with this ever-evolving change on all of its levels: personal, societal, institutional and constitutional.

I hope that when people come, they can see a reflection of our society, and what is happening in it, what has been happening in it, what is still happening in it and how we move forward to change that and move from change, not just talking but into action, you know,” says Clarke.

Sharon D. Clarke
Sharon D Clarke

CAROLINE OR CHANGE, for Sharon D Clarke, is a wonderful musical that is more of an opera than your archetypal musical in the sense that the music is sweeping, melodious and harmonic with influence from Gospel, Work Songs, Motown, Klezmer and Classical genres. The viewing experience is quite unique, in and of itself, in the way that it is presented to the audience, the way that it is written and scored and it leaves the audience filled with emotion and encompassed in the experience.

For the audience, if it’s a subject that you’re coming to for the first time, you will be taught, you will be enlightened, you will be enriched and you will see a slice of life that you may not normally see on a stage; a Black female woman, who is a maid, as the main character. It’s powerful and it’s special.

Over the course of her impressive career, actor Sharon D Clarke has won three Olivier awards. One of those accolades was for her 2017 performance as Caroline Thibodeaux in this musical CAROLINE OR CHANGE. Thibodeaux is a single mother of four children, making thirty dollars a week as a maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family in Louisiana. We see her life through those eyes, through that experience and through the backdrop of societal change.

This original role, as Caroline Thibodeaux, has taken Sharon D Clarke from Chichester, England, to her debut on Broadway. EURweb asked about her opening debut on Broadway, her experience in New York City, thus far, and how she’s been celebrating?

“One of the first things that I did was to put on Native New Yorker and strut about my apartment. New York City is just so glorious,” Sharon D Clarke said.” I love New York. I’ve been coming here to see friends and soaking up this glorious city, as a Londoner. It’s not a place that makes me afraid or overwhelms me. My wife says ‘that one of the things she loves about New York is that people come to you. ”

As an example, Sharon D Clark shared: “I was doing a show ‘Blues In The Night’ and someone said to me in the bar afterward, ‘so what are you an actor or a singer?’ And I’m like, well you’ve watched the show you tell me!?  I love it. It’s an absolute joy.  I am living my best and glorious life, with so many firsts that bring me so much joy and that’s what opening night was for me. Pure joy!”

Sharon D Clarke and her wife, had a small soiree, at the back of a bar, after opening night, for just the “people who enter the building every day.” But, they were able to put on their glad rags and have a bit of a boogie and have a bit of a drink, and then they had some friends back at the apartment and they partied on with a few close friends until 4:00 am.  By the time those guests left and she and her wife, Susie, finished chatting about the day and the night and everything, it was about 6:00 am. So, it was a good thing that it was just an evening show the next day! It was a ride of joyfulness and a tidal wave of a beautiful experience.

Sharon D Clarke said “you know it was beautiful, just beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!” A sentiment that can not only be said about opening night but also about the experience you will have with “CAROLINE OR CHANGE”! That is it! That is all!  Simply, a beautiful experience!

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is produced in association with Ambassador Theatre Group, Benjamin Lowy Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions and Glass Half Full Productions at Studio 54

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is directed by Michael Longhurst and choreographed by Ann Yee and stars Sharon D Clarke.

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