More of a pocket opera than a conventional musical, Caroline, or Change is the work of playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori. The plot, which concerns a black maid in a Jewish home in Lake Charles, LA, in the fall of 1963 and her relationship with the family's eight-year-old son who absent-mindedly leaves change in his pockets, might more appropriately have been applied to a short story. But Kushner, who needed two separate, very long plays to encompass his Angels in America, doesn't write miniatures. So, the slight story is made to bear the burden of American race relations and the trauma of the Kennedy assassination. Tesori, who wrote the new songs for the stage production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, sets Kushner's lyrics and dialogue to familiar styles of the period. This is a show in which inanimate objects -- a radio, a washing machine, a dryer, a bus, the moon -- are all alive and singing, and Tesori gives them each a genre. The radio, for example, personified by a female trio, sings in early-'60s girl group style, sometimes recalling Motown Records acts like the Supremes or a Phil Spector creation like the Crystals ("Santa Comin' Caroline," which begins the second act and the second disc, would fit on Spector's A Christmas Gift to You LP). The washing machine sounds like Aretha Franklin, while the devilish dryer is a blues singer in the mold of Bobby "Blue" Bland. Caroline herself, forcefully portrayed by Tonya Pinkins, sings in gospel tones as if channeling Mahalia Jackson. The Jewish family, on the other hand, with father Stuart (David Costabile) fingering the clarinet, is given klezmer music to sing to. Encompassing the entire sung-through show, the two-hour, two-CD cast album reflects the overblown nature of the stage production. There are many moments of lyrical wit and musical enjoyment, but Caroline, or Change is an enormous project built upon a small subject that cannot support its weight.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2