OGDEN — The critically acclaimed — but rarely performed — “Caroline, or Change” comes to Good Company Theatre as its final show of the 2018 season.
The musical, which opens Thursday, Nov. 29, and runs through Dec. 9, was written by Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner. It centers on the Civil Rights Movement and takes place in 1963, at about the time President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Based loosely on Kushner’s own childhood, the play tells the story of a black woman who works for a Jewish family. The son in the family keeps leaving change in his pockets, and the maid, Caroline, has been told she can keep any money she finds in pockets when doing laundry.
“It’s a rarely done piece,” said director Teresa Sanderson. “It’s only been produced one other time in Utah — and that was 10 years ago.”
The piece was originally commissioned as an opera, according to Sanderson.
“There are only maybe 20 spoken lines, everything else is sung,” she said.
The play has a magical feel to it, with actors portraying various non-living items throughout the musical.
“There are inanimate objects that are characters in this play,” Sanderson said. “The radio is three women. There’s a washer and dryer that live in the basement, and they’re played by a person. The bus is played by a person. The moon is played by a person. All this allows it to be a magical experience.”
Sanderson said the play will resonate with anybody interested in that time period — the early 1960s — and the Civil Rights Movement.
“And anybody who loves great music,” she added.
It’s got Motown, blues, gospel spirituals, even klezmer.
“You’ve got this wide variety of music and themes,” Sanderson said.
And, she said it’s catchy music that will get stuck in audience members’ minds.
“You might go away humming something,” she said.
Sanderson said the production will be challenging because it’s an 18-person cast working in “that little, teeny-tiny space.” It’s taken a bit of creative finessing to fit it all in.
“We rattle the rafters in there,” she said.
Sanderson said the play is particularly fitting in today’s climate. She said there are a number of parallels to what is happening currently in this country.
“You want to think we’ve made all this progress, but when you look at things we haven’t made as much as we’d hoped,” she said. “There are things happening now that happened then.”
And while the play may not have what one might consider a happy ending, it does offer some optimism.
“I think it has an extremely hopeful ending,” Sanderson said. “Whether or not I’d call it happy, I would say everybody grows and does their thing.”
Joining Sanderson in the production is Anne Puzey as music director. It stars Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin in the title role, and the cast includes Jayne Luke, Alicia Washington, Oliver Kokai-Means, Natalie Keezer, Dee Tua’one and Tristan Johnson, among others. It’s recommended for audiences ages 10 and older, with mild adult language and themes.
“I love this show so much. I’m thrilled to be doing it,” Sanderson said, adding: “And, someday, I wanna play a washer. I’m just saying.”