I sit in the London flat of a dear friend as I write. But thanks to what George W. Bush calls “the Internets,” I’m still able to deliver my more-or-less weekly feature summing up reviews of Los Angeles theatre. Let me say it again: I’m in one of the purported capitals of world theatre, parsing words about the stages of Los Angeles.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without further ado:
The big opening of the week was, of course, the musical CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at Downtown’s Ahmanson Theatre. The show, with book by Tony Kushner, music Jeanine Tesori, and knockout lead performance by Tonya Pinkins, has critics reaching—possibly over-reaching—for their most exalted language. The Weekly’s Steven Leigh Morris called it “a whompin’ American hymn: half gospel, half davening, an ode to despair and a prayer for deliverance”; The Daily News’ Evan Henerson raved, “It is like no other musical you have ever seen or, likely, will ever experience… It's simply a challenging and important work that absolutely must be seen.” The Times’ Mark Swed, taking another of his increasingly frequent breaks from reviewing classical music, gave what for him is a rave (sometimes it’s hard to tell), calling Caroline an “important, big, meaningful musical not by Sondheim that demands your attention… that says, yes, the musical is not dead, has not been entirely consumed by a bloated, creativity-smothering, Disney-occupied, tourist-coddling culture of a no-longer-great Great White Way.” I was curious to see what Back Stage West’s Les Spindle thought, since he’s such a musical theatre aficionado; he was won over by what he called “a breathtakingly beautiful and cerebral blend of folk opera and kitchen-sink drama, bursting through its gritty milieu via exhilarating flights of surreal fantasy.” In my own Downtown News review, I called it “an astonishing feat of heartfelt hindsight” and “a full-service entertainment.” The Orange County Register’s Paul Hodgins sounded the only sour notes, complaining that the character of Caroline is entirely unsympathetic and furthermore that Kushner’s “imagery is overly freighted with metaphor, and his homages to other work, particularly Porgy and Bess, can seem like clumsy interpolations.” Still, even Hodgins was able to see that “when all its elements come together, Caroline, or Change can send shivers down your spine.” This is a miss-at-your-own-peril show, it seems. Turnout on opening night was shockingly porous, so I’d say you could “rush” ticket this one, except that these reviews may fill some of those empty seats. (And what was the “anti-Semitic outburst” a critical colleague of mine reported as marring that same opening night? I didn’t notice any, except the devastating one in the script.)
Next up: More on Vishnu and A Perfect Wedding.