It's 1963. Martin Luther King has just told the world of his dream. John F. Kennedy is about to be assassinated. And in the basement of a Jewish family's home in Louisiana, their African-American maid spends her days doing laundry and being the only friend of a boy who has lost his mother.
That's the setting for Caroline, or Change, a musical with its roots in the life of Tony Kushner (Angels in America), who wrote the book and lyrics, and a cornucopia of music styles used by composer Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie). When it played on Broadway. Time Out New York called Caroline "daring, beautiful and profoundly moving."
In the production at The Loft Theatre by The Human Race, Dayton's own professional theatre company, Caroline is played by Tanesha Gary, who was in the Broadway cast as part of a singing radio, one of the show's many whimsical anthropomorphic characters. She's often visited in the basement laundry room by Noah, her employers' young son, played by 11-year old Brendan Plate of Washington Township.
"The role of Noah is substantial," says director Scott Stoney. "Brendan is really good about taking direction. It's been interesting to watch the relationship of Caroline and Noah build."
Brendan isn't the only youngster in the show. Caroline has four children of her own, including two young boys played by 14-year old Malachi-Phree J. Pate of Dayton, a Stivers student, and 9-year old J. Miguel Conrado Rojas, a 4th grader at Cox Elementary in Xenia. "We're really thrilled that we found these very talented local youngsters," says Stoney.
Caroline's oldest son is serving in Vietnam. Her only daughter is played by Julian's real-life older sister, Yvette Williams, who was recently Homecoming Queen at Wright State. Her best friend, Dotty, is played by Taprena Augustine, a resident of Blacklick, outside Columbus.
Noah's father is played by Bruce Sabath, who was in the Best Revival Tony-winning production of Company; his stepmother by Adrienne Gibbons Oehlers, who was Kitty in The Human Race production of The Drowsy Chaperone; his grandparents by Resident Artist Kay Bosse and Dayton-area stalwarts Saul Caplan and K.L. Storer.
The anthropomorphic characters include Brittany Campbell (who's used to non-human parts, since she was once part of a Sesame Street bug choir) as The Washing Machine; Chicago-based Dwelvan David as both The Dryer and The Bus; New Yorker Tonya Thompson as The Moon; and Ashanti J'Aria and Kimberly Shay Hamby of New York and Shawn Storms (Trix in Drowsy Chaperone) as The Radio.
Behind the scenes, Scot Woolley and Resident Artist Sean Michael Flowers are Music Director and Assistant Music Director/pianist, and Heather Jackson is Stage Manage., Choreographer Teressa Wylie and Scenic Designer Dan Gray are from the Ohio State theatre faculty. Lighting is by Resident Artist John Rensel, costumes by Kristine Kearney, and sound by Nathan D. Dean, with Heather Powell handling props.
Caroline, or Change is the second presentation of The Human Race's 25th Anniversary Season. It will have a preview performance Thursday, November 3, and officially open November 4, with performances through November 20. Tickets are available via www.humanracetheatre.org, by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, or at the Schuster Center box office.
Production sponsors for Caroline, or Change are the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, The Harry A. Toulmin, Jr., and Virginia B. Toulmin Fund of the Dayton Foundation, Muse Machine, Tim and Char Scroggins, DP&L Foundation, and Emerson Climate Technologies, with additional support from Mrs. Wallace E. Johnson, Richard and Marni Flagel, The Roberts Foundation, the National Conference of Community & Justice of Greater Dayton, Burhill Leasing, One Lincoln Park, and Bob Ross Buick-GMC & Mercedes-Benz.
The Human Race Theatre Company was founded in 1986 and moved into the Metropolitan Arts Center in 1991, taking up residence at the 219-seat Loft Theatre. In addition to the Eichelberger Loft Season, The Human Race produces for the Victoria Theatre's Broadway Series, the Musical Theatre Workshop series, and special event programming. The Human Race, under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Kevin Moore, also maintains education and outreach programs for children, teens and adults, as well as artist residencies in area schools, The Muse Machine In-School Tour, and summer youth programs. Human Race organizational support is provided by Culture Works, Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District, Shubert Foundation, the Erma R. Catterton Trust Fund and the Ohio Arts Council. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this organization with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The Human Race's 25th Anniversary Season is sponsored by the Miriam Rosenthal Memorial Trust Fund.
All photos by Scott J. Kimmins