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Acting Up Stage Toronto had a recent run of "Caroline, or Change," written by Tony Kushner. The Globe and Mail gave it 4 stars and a number of blurbs said it's the best theater of the last year. Last year New York Magazine called it one of the "greatest musicals of all time", the only so chosen of the 21st century to appear on every panelists' short list.

So, hm. I wish I thought it was that good.

The story follows a young boy (modeled on Kushner) who lives in Lousiana in 1963. His Jewish family employs an African-American maid, Caroline. The title refers to all sorts of change: the coins in the boy's pocket (which cause drama as his step-mother decides Caroline should keep them rather than give them back to the boy), the political seismic shifts washing across the United States (including the Southern Freedom marches, the assassination of JFK, and the Vietnam War), the changes in social status of Caroline's high-school friend Rose, and against all of these, how Caroline feels the same as ever.

It is a powerful show; and there are notes of genius- the music is beautiful; the players are spot-on (except for one thing I'll note below); the magic of playing the Washing Machine, Radio, and Dryer as soul-singers is wonderful; and the Moon, played by a woman in a diva-like hat, occasionally gave me shivers.

In the end, the biggest problem I had was that it feels exactly like there's only one three-dimensional character, the boy Noah (who grows up to be the playwright). I think with a bit of tweaking to the book, this could be the amazing show for me that other people seemed to find it.

I think the ONLY fault in the production was sort of funny: a song about the moon talks about how her light shone, and the song rhymes shone with alone; but the Canadian pronunciation of "shone" is the same as the name "Shawn", and sure enough that's how it was sung. Um, yeah.

But anyway, it reminds me how difficult it is to change, especially when not changing has lots of comfortable attractions.

August 2013

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