By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
With any lesser talent than Liz Mikel in the lead, the show, directed by Jac Alder, might not be as rewarding as it is at Theatre Three. Mikel plays Caroline Thibodeaux, a 39-year-old black maid working for a Jewish family in Louisiana in November 1963. For $30 a week, she does laundry in a stifling basement where her only companion is 9-year-old Noah Gellman (Chance Jonas-O'Toole), son of the dour musician dad (Stan Graner) whose second wife, Rose (Wendy Welch), is more of a nagging scold than new mom to the boy. To teach Noah a lesson in the value of money, Rose tells Caroline to keep any spare change she finds in the pockets of his dirty dungarees. Soon, the kid is salting the laundry with coins to help Caroline and her three children, a gesture that leads to a blow-up that causes Caroline to quit her job shortly after the assassination of JFK (hey, it's Kushner, who never met a historical theme he didn't exploit).
Mikel works unmiked here, rare for a musical, even in an intimate space. But this woman possesses a soaring, multi-octave voice that plays like a cello. One moment she's roaring down to the low notes, the next she's taking it up to a high soprano whisper. Every syllable is ripe and perfect. And in her strong singing we hear Caroline's weariness and rage. Mikel is giving the performance of her life.
As one of those newfangled shows with a real plot, Caroline depends upon whimsical symbols. There's an anthropomorphized singing moon (Vernicia Vernon), washing machine (Chimberly Carter) and dryer (Paul Doucet). When Caroline turns on the radio to relieve her tedium while ironing, three Supremes-like ladies (Feleceia Benton, Alysha Deslorieux, Sherel Riley) appear. Cute, but that's about all.
Caroline, or Change continues through July 1 at Theatre Three, 214-871-3300.
Chicago continues through June 17 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 214-631-ARTS.
The other performance worth noting is Ashley Duplechain as Caroline's teenage daughter Emmie. She gets the final song in the show and while the angry epilogue about civil rights is not a tune you'll leave the theater remembering, you'll have a hard time forgetting the singer.
The star worth seeing is Terra C. MacLeod, playing Velma Kelly, the 1920s vaudeville queen doing time for murder. She's "All That Jazz" and more. Dig how her bare shoulders undulate in that sexy Bob Fosse choreography. As attorney Billy Flynn, Tom Wopat looks a little road-weary, but he's OK. As Roxie Hart, TV soap siren and Dancing With the Stars also-ran Lisa Rinna has half the voice she needs for Broadway (where she goes into Chicago June 19), but she wins the audience with her goofy poses. She's all tits and lips, which works for this show.
For a road show, it's about the best Chicago you could ask for—at least for the Fosse-able future.