Caroline or Change

Friday, May 20, 2005

I (illegally) downloaded a song called Lot's wife from the cast recording of a show called Caroline or Change. It's a second act aria for the lead character, Caroline. The story concerns this woman, who is a middle-aged black maid for a southern Jewish family in the 1960's. Caroline receives instructions to begin keeping the change that is left in the pants pockets of the family's only son. Even though she is very quiet and still, Caroline is keepign a lot to herself. The word change has a double meaning here, money and the political climate of the times (mainly, the civil rights movement), and it brings turmoil to Caroline’s life, as she shares songs with the moon, radio, washing machine and other home appliances.

"Lot's wife" is a melodic tour de force in the style of "Rose's turn" from Gypsy or "Losing my mind" from Follies: the story builds up to the moment where the character just let's it rip (musically). Why is this song superior to both the legendary numbers I mentioned? Because of it's gritty and earthy nature. This really does sound more like a nervous breakdown set to music, not just a song about going bonkers. It's urgent and sometimes dissonant sounds are quite unnerving (and even a little scary). You can't help but hear as this woman falls apart before your ears (I know, Sondheim is a God, but that's how I feel, sorry). The fact that Tonya Pinkins pulled this song off every night is proof of how far good technique can take you.

The song starts off rather tame, then produces a beat-filled harmony that might even get your toes tapping; suddenly, and without warning, it launches off into a spiteful howl, Caroline screams her rage and opposition to change only to end softly, almost like a lullaby, singing these painful words to God (written my Tony Kushner, who also penned Angels in America):

"Murder me now, down in the basement.
Murder my dreams, so I'll stop wantin'.
Murder my hope of him returning.
Strangle the pride that make me crazy.
Make me forget so I stop grieving.
Scour my skin, till I stop feeling.
Take Caroline away, 'cause I can't be her;
take Caroline away, I can't afford her.
Tear out my heart, strangle my soul.
Turn me to salt, a pillar of salt,
a broken storm and then...
Caroline, Caroline,
on the evening she done,
Lord set her free,
set her free,
set me free!
Don't let my sorrow make evil of me..."



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