Nothing ever happened underground in Louisiana.
As part of A Celebration of Tony Kushner, Washington DC’s Roundhouse Theater is taking us underground to 1963 Lake Charles, LA with its production of Caroline, Or Change, running January 25- February 26 and featuring Helen Hayes Award-winning Nova Y. Payton as Caroline.
I already have chills.
Through and through a memory piece, Caroline, or Change faintly echoes playwright Tony Kushner’s childhood and his upbringing as a Jewish kid in Louisiana, in a middle class family with a Black maid during the American civil rights movement.
I feel arms crossing in front of chests.
Now this isn’t a narrative resting squarely on the tired trope of Black characters being reduced to the help. Rather, a snapshot into the life of a son dealing with the death of his mother, a step mom finding her place in a grieving family, and a Black woman– who although struggles, sacrifices so that her family will never have to be trapped 16 ft below sea level.
The woman bringing this story to life is Nova Y. Payton– one of the many gems of the DC theatre scene. Recently seen in Silver Belles and Jelly’s Last Jam, Payton is perhaps most known for her stand out performances as Effie White in Dreamgirls for which she received a Barrymore & Helen Hayes Award Nominee for Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Resident Musical; and Motormouth Maybelle in Harispray for which she won the Helen Hayes Award for Supporting Actress, Resident Musical.
Jeanine Tesori’s orchestrations thread each character together and I’m ready to see the dexterity of this cast as they combine blues, spiritual, and classical music to magnify this spectacle of heart.
And then there’s “Lot’s Wife.”
Read: Tonya Pinkin’s earth shattering master class on emoting, and what I’m sure will come to be another career defining moment for Payton.
This is OUR “Defying Gravity*.” Our fight song to have the strength to persevere through a bleak reality. Honestly, I’m still wondering WHO’S GOING TO RUN TONYA HER TONY** and when!?!?!? As for you, Ms. Payton, we hope to hear your name come this awards season.
Caroline, or Change follows the presentation of both parts of Tony Kushner’s Tony-winning Angels in America. Round House is billing their season as: “On both sides of the presidential election, we present the most celebrated work by America’s best living political playwright.”
The company includes Theresa Cunningham, Felicia Curry, V. Savoy Mcllwain, Olivia Russell, Awa Sal Secka, Korinn Walfall, Kara-Tameika Watkins, Delores King Williams, Elijah Mayo, Micah Tate, Will Gartshore, Naomi Jacobson, John Lescaut, Scott Sedar, and Griffin McCahill, with Matthew Gardiner as Director and Choreographer for this production.
With a book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and a score by Jeanine Tesori, Caroline, Or Change originally opened on Broadway on May 2, 2004 at Eugene O’Neill Theater, under the direction of George C. Wolfe. Tonya Pinkins starred as Caroline, taking home a Lucille Lortel award and a Tony nomination. The original broadway company also featured Anika Noni Rose and Chuck Cooper.
For tickets click HERE! Take a look at the treat your in for!
* Wicked opened on Broadway during the 2004 season, with “Defying Gravity” as its 11 o’clock number.
** Tonya Pinkins and Idina Menzel were both nominated for the 2004 Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. Menzel took home the award.