Caroline, Or Change
Set in 1963 Louisiana, a provocative story of political change, social change and pocket change.
Show Essentials

Full Synopsis

Act One

1963, Louisiana.

It's another hot day for Caroline Thibodeaux, a black maid for the Gellman family. As she walks down the steps into the scorching basement, Caroline turns on the washing machine and the radio--both of which come to life and sing with Caroline to keep her company ("Scene 1 Washer/Dryer"). As she launders with a hard frown on her face, Caroline sings "Nothing ever happen underground in Louisiana...there is only underwater."

On top of the stairs, Noah Gellman, the 8-year-old son, enters. Noah is very interested in Caroline and tries to get close to her, despite (or because of) her no-nonsense attitude. Noah takes pleasure in the fact that Caroline allows him to light her one cigarette of the day: a secret they can share ("Noah Down the Stairs").

Once Noah lights her cigarette, Caroline shoos him away as she puts the laundry into the dryer ("Laundry Finish"/"The Dryer"). As the dryer moans, Caroline sings about her four kids, divorce, and cleaning houses for twenty-two years. She wishes everyday she would die. By this time in her life, she thought she would be doing better. Instead, she makes thirty dollars a week, which the radio sings "Ain't enough." As Caroline continues doing the laundry, she sings again "Nothing ever happen underground in Louisiana...there is only underwater."

At the end of a long work day, Caroline is about to go home when Rose Stopnick Gellman, Noah's stepmother, arrives from shopping. Rose tells Caroline that there is extra food that she wants her to take home to her kids ("Caroline, There's Extra Food"). Caroline turns down the offer. Noah's grandparents are outside of the house and sing about Noah's mother, who died of cancer. Noah informs us that his father plays the clarinet, his mother played the bassoon and that they used to play duets. Rose calls up to Noah, but Noah ignores her, instead going to Caroline in the basement. Caroline tells Noah that her mother died of cancer, too. She tells him that God created cancer and that when people are dying of cancer they are being eaten by God. Noah asks if God made the dryer, to which Caroline replies, "No, the Devil made the dryer. Everything else, God made."

However, Noah's father, Stuart, says otherwise. Ever since Noah's mother died, his father has been drained of energy. He tells Noah that there is no God and that they don't believe in that stuff, anymore ("There is No God, Noah"). Noah's grandparents sing of their widowed son. He married his wife's friend, Rose, from New York City in order to make a new start. Noah's grandparents say that even though Rose can cook and doesn't smoke, she doesn't play the bassoon. Noah states that he hates her with all of his heart ("Rose Stropnick Can Cook").

Rose, with a moment alone, calls her father in New York City and gives him an update on how everything is. She tells him that Noah still hates her, Stuart is still depressed about his first wife, and that money is so tight that they can't afford to give Caroline the raise she deserves and needs. Meanwhile, Noah has a nasty habit of leaving change in his pants pockets that Caroline has to fish out for him. Rose accidentally releases that she is miserable there and misses her father and New York City ("Long Distance").

Later that night, Caroline waits at the bus stop and runs into a fellow maid named Dotty. ("Dotty and Caroline") Dotty is very giddy because she now has a boyfriend with a car and that her employer lets her off early every night because she's taking night classes at the community college. Caroline tells her she's too tired to talk, but pretty soon the two get into a fight about each other's lifestyles. Caroline disapproves of Dotty's wild behavior and Dotty thinks that Caroline needs to be less rigid with life. In order to cheer her up, Dotty tells Caroline that a group of teenagers took down a statue honoring the Confederate soldier in the Civil War in front of the court house. Caroline doesn't know anything about it because she doesn't own a television. She isn't happy about the news, saying that it will only cause trouble.

Meanwhile, the moon finally rises ("Moon Change"). As the moon shines, Caroline tells Dotty again that she can't go on parading herself. It's better she dress simple and do her job with a closed mouth. Dotty replies that the happy, joyful and smart Caroline now seems to be confused ("Moon Trio"). When the bus comes, it arrives with terrible news. The president was shot in Dallas and is dead ("The Bus"/"The President is Dead").

Back at the Gellman's house, Rose brings Noah downstairs to tell him that he needs to stop leaving change in his pockets. She tells him that it's insulting to Caroline, who slaves away in the basement for very little money and has to find his neglected money. Noah gets angry and tells Rose that Caroline "is King." He says Caroline is stronger than Rose, and then runs to his room ("Noah and Rose").

Rose goes to Noah's room and tells him that any change he leaves in his laundry Caroline gets to keep. Noah agrees. Noah's grandparents arrive and inform the family that JFK has been shot. They reminisce about all the good that JFK did for the Jewish community, while Dotty reminisces about everything that JFK was on his way to do for the black community ("Scene Four-Finale").

Meanwhile, Caroline is sitting on the front porch of her house, listening to the radio and waiting for her teenage daughter, Emmie. Emmie explains that she was at the parking lot with friends, dancing to the radio. Caroline tells her that the president is dead. Emmie tells her that she knows, but that she and her friends kept on dancing. She doesn't have any remorse for JFK since he said he would help the black community, but hadn't done a thing. Caroline tells Emmie to be quiet and go to sleep, unhappy that her daughter now has an attitude and a loud mouth. Emmie tells Caroline good night, kisses her on the cheek and goes inside ("Scene Five").

Noah, who is still awake, talks to Caroline from his bedroom, while Caroline is on her front porch. He calls her "President Caroline," pondering what she's going to do since JFK is dead and she's now the only president in the United States. She says she's going to pass a law that the night lasts longer, her eldest son comes home from Vietnam, her daughter never gets into trouble and that Nat King Cole comes to her house. Caroline asks Noah why he likes someone who is not nice to him. Noah reminds Caroline of the cigarette she lets him light. In addition, because his mother liked Caroline, he likes her, too. Caroline tells Noah to go to sleep and to "stop botherin' the night." She laments how she has rent, bills, and food to pay for and no money to do it with ("Gonna Pass Me a Law").

The next day, Rose tells Caroline about Noah's problem with change in his pockets. Rose offers that Caroline keep any change she finds in Noah's pocket, so that she can get the raise she deserves and Noah can learn a lesson about leaving money around. Rose is obviously nervous around Caroline and tries to make the offer seem fair ("Noah Has a Problem").

Meanwhile, Noah visits Stuart in his practice room. Stuart can't even remember how old Noah is or what grade he is in. Stuart tells Noah that he needs to start showing responsibility, and will give him money every week for doing chores. Noah is excited and decides he's going to spend the money every week on candy and comic books.

The next day, Noah leaves a quarter in his pocket. Testing if Caroline will take it, she does. He then tries two quarters, and Caroline takes them. When Noah accidentally leaves a dollar bill in his pocket, Caroline decides to give it back to Noah. However, he is no longer allowed to light her cigarette. Noah tests her again with three quarters, and Caroline takes them home. Caroline says to herself that thirty dollars a week is not enough ("The Bleach Cup").

Caroline then goes home and gives each of her three children (Emmie, Jackie, and Joe) a quarter . As Caroline goes into the house, her sons wonder where she got the money. Emmie tells them to stop being nosey and just enjoy it. She then tells them a story of a kid, Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw, who was too nosey about his mother's business and he died. Meanwhile, Noah fantasizes about Caroline's family talking about him all day and wanting to take him into their household. As the act ends, Caroline comes out and sings how Noah is still leaving change in his pocket and, though she feels bad about it, she needs to be ruthless because the money she finds will help her pay for what her family needs ("Scene 6-Finale").

Act Two

Caroline is in the basement, ironing and listening to the radio. The bleach cup is now filled with change. Though she feels bad about taking the money from a kid, she knows that Christmas is coming and that she needs the money to get her children what they want and need. As the radio plays and the washing machine rinses, Caroline thinks back on her marriage. Her husband used to be sweet and thoughtful and then, suddenly, became scary. He once hit her, breaking her nose. When he hit her again, Caroline divorced him and now is making a living as a maid. She doesn't even know where her husband is anymore ("Ironing").

Rose comes down to tell Caroline that Stuart accidentally left a quarter in his shirt pocket, because Caroline ironed it and left a circle on the shirt. She tells Caroline she can keep the quarter. Caroline becomes angry and refuses the quarter, telling Rose she has more laundry to do and wants to be left alone ("Mr. Gellman's Shirt"/"Ooh Child").

Rose then composes herself and tells Caroline that her father is coming in for Chanukah. She asks Caroline to request Dotty and Emmie help out with the party ("Rose Recovers"). She then tries to make friendly small talk, but Caroline rejects it and continues to work ("Dryer Gloria"). Rose goes back upstairs and Caroline continues working. Suddenly, Jackie, Joe, and Emmie appear in the laundry room, encouraging Caroline to continue taking the money because they need it ("I Saw Three Ships").

At the Chanukah Christmas party, Emmie and Dotty are helping Caroline in the kitchen, preparing the food and setting the table. Stuart plays his clarinet, while Rose, her father, and Noah's grandparents dance. Meanwhile, Noah is in the kitchen educating Emmie about Chanukah and what each food stands for ("The Chanukah Party"). Rose shoos Noah out of the kitchen and tells him to join the party ("Noah, Out! It's Very Rude!"). With Noah gone, Dotty tells Emmie about the court house statue being taken down. When Emmie asks if they found out who did it, Dotty says they didn't. Regardless, Dotty is happy that the statue is down. ("Dotty and Emmie").

Caroline tells Dotty she doesn't want Emmie hearing stories of rebellion, because she doesn't want Emmie getting into trouble with the law. Meanwhile, Mr. Stopnick, Rose's father, is discussing and belittling Martin Luther King Jr. and his plan for the black community to be non-violent. Emmie overhears and can't help but protest Mr. Stopnick's comments and say that he simply doesn't understand and that it's meant for the black community to understand ("Mr. Stopnick and Emmie"). Caroline yells at Emmie to stop and get back in the kitchen. Though Mr. Stopnick doesn't mind the argument and is impressed with Emmie, Caroline is furious--yelling at Emmie in the kitchen. She can't talk that way to white people! Emmie confronts her mother that all she knows how to do is bow her head and take orders, get paid, and then leave. Caroline slaps her and walks out of the house ("Kitchen Fight").

Dotty tells Emmie to never speak to her mother like that again. Emmie is to treat her with respect, since Caroline is doing all she can to provide for her family. Emmie and Dotty grab their coats and leave to meet up with Caroline at the bus. At the party, Mr. Stopnick gives Noah a twenty-dollar bill as a Chanukah present, hoping to teach him a life lesson about money and what must be done to get it ("A Twenty Dollar Bill and Why"). The speech frightens Noah and he runs upstairs.

At the bus stop, Emmie says when she's older she's going to get a car and a big house with everything she'll ever need ("I Hate the Bus"). As she sings, Rose tells Stuart to go check up on Noah and see if he is all right. As Stuart makes his way up the stairs, he freezes. He says he can't go upstairs because he'll only upset Noah, but can't go downstairs because he can't give Rose what she wants. He dreams of living in his house with only Noah and no one else, and them living together until Noah is grown and they'll be happy ("Moon, Emmie, Stuart Trio").

The next day at school, Noah is in class, when he suddenly realizes that he left the twenty-dollar bill in his pants and runs home after school, hoping Caroline hasn't found it yet ("The Twenty Dollar Bill"/"The Clock"). When he gets home, it is too late. Caroline's found the money and says she is now keeping it. Noah yells at her and says that President Johnson has built a bomb that kills only black people and that he hopes it drops on her. Caroline tells Noah that hell is a very hot place, hotter than the basement they are in, and that hell is where Jews go when they die. She then gives Noah the money and leaves ("Caroline and Noah Fight").

("Aftermath") Three days go by and Caroline doesn't come in to work. Rose, worried about Caroline, finds the twenty-dollar bill in the bleach cup and asks Noah if Caroline found the money. Mr. Stopnick, saving Noah, says that the money is his. Another day goes by, and Caroline still doesn't come in to work. Mr. Stopnick tells Rose that perhaps subconsciously, she wanted Noah to get detached from Caroline so that it would be easier for her to connect with him. Rose, incredibly hurt, tells her father she wants him to go back home.

That Sunday, Dotty stops by Caroline's house to tell Caroline that Rose called looking for her. Caroline, ready to go to church with her children, tells her she hasn't quit, but that she can't go back to work. Dotty tells Caroline it hurts her to see her so sad, but that there's nothing she can do if Caroline isn't willing to change. As Dotty leaves, Caroline thinks to herself about all the bad that the money she kept did. It caused her hatefulness to come out and it made her into a person she didn't want to become. She asks God to make her not want anything anymore, so that she can never be evil again ("Lot's Wife"). As the radio plays, Caroline's children walk with her to church. Caroline stops Emmie and gives her a fierce hug before they walk off ("How Long Has This Been Going On?")

At the Gellman house, Noah finally lets Rose tuck him into bed, even allowing her to kiss him goodnight. He asks Rose if there is only underwater in Louisiana, if his mother is buried underwater. Rose assures him that his mother is safe above ground. Rose then goes downstairs and sits with Stuart as he plays the clarinet. Caroline has started coming back to work again, and Noah talks to her from his bedroom that night as she sits on her porch, listening to the radio. Noah asks Caroline what it's like underwater, to which she says it's like a song. She assures him that they'll be friends again. He asks if she misses him lighting her cigarette, which Caroline says, "You bet I do, Noah" ("Why Does Our House Have Basement?").

As Caroline goes inside, Emmie walks out in her nightgown. She reveals that she was part of the gang that took down the statue of the Confederate soldier. She recounts how she tore down the evil of the statue saying proudly that she was the daughter of a maid and that she knew change was coming, whether it was fast or slow. Jackie and Joe come out and tell Emmie to be quiet and let their mother sleep, since she has worked all day. Emmie quietly, but proudly, sings once more that she is the daughter of a maid, and that though she may be hidden underground, her children, her future, will ensure that what she does is for a greater cause.



Cast Size: Medium (11 to 20 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: None

Character Breakdown

Caroline Thibodeaux
Works as a maid to the Gellman family. She is a divorcee with four children and resistant to change in the world. Bitter, tired, devoted.
Gender: female
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: E3
Washing Machine
Part narrator, part friend, and part subconscious to Caroline and her story.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 50
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
The Radio
Part narrator, part friend, and part subconscious to Caroline and her story. Played by three women.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 50
Noah Gellman
The son of Caroline's employer, Stuart Gellman. Shy, forgetful, and looks to Caroline for comfort and distraction.
Gender: male
Age: 7 to 10
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
The Dryer
Part narrator, part friend, and part subconscious to Caroline and her story. Can double as The Bus.
Gender: male
Age: 20 to 50
Vocal range top: C6
Vocal range bottom: E3
Grandma Gellman
Stuart's mother and Noah's grandmother. She is concerned for her son's melancholy and an admirer of his new wife.
Gender: female
Age: 55 to 65
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Grandpa Gellman
Stuart's father and Noah's grandfather. He is aloof to the changes occurring in the South.
Gender: male
Age: 60 to 70
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Rose Stopnick Gellman
An old friend of the Gellman's and Stuart's new wife. She has recently moved to the South.
Gender: female
Age: 35 to 45
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Stuart Gellman
Noah's father and Rose's new husband. He is also Caroline's employer. He has trouble connecting to his son and new wife.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range top: G5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Dotty Moffett
Caroline's high-spirited friend and fellow maid. A drinker and smoker, she is routinely admonished by Caroline for her behavior.
Gender: female
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: F3
The Moon
Part narrator, part friend, and part subconscious to Caroline and her story.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 50
Vocal range top: A5
Vocal range bottom: B3
The Bus
Part narrator, part friend, and part subconscious to Caroline and her story. Can double as The Dryer.
Gender: male
Age: 20 to 50
Vocal range top: B5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Emmie Thibodeaux
Caroline's only daughter and the second of four children. Observant, rebellious, outspoken.
Gender: female
Age: 16 to 18
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Jackie Thibodeaux
Caroline's son. Though he is older than Joe, he is more sweet and naïve.
Gender: male
Age: 9 to 12
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: A3
Joe Thibodeaux
Caroline's son. Though he is the baby of the family, he is outspoken and skeptical.
Gender: male
Age: 8 to 11
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Mr. Stopnick
Rose's father from New York City. A politically progressive man with dissenting opinions.
Gender: male
Age: 65 to 75
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Full Song List
Caroline, Or Change: 16 Feet Beneath the Sea
Caroline, Or Change: The Radio
Caroline, Or Change: Laundry Quintet
Caroline, Or Change: Noah Down the Stairs
Caroline, Or Change: The Cigarette
Caroline, Or Change: Laundry Finish
Caroline, Or Change: The Dryer
Caroline, Or Change: I Got Four Kids
Caroline, Or Change: Caroline, There's Extra Food
Caroline, Or Change: There is No God, Noah
Caroline, Or Change: Rose Stopnick Can Cook
Caroline, Or Change: Long Distance
Caroline, Or Change: Dotty and Caroline
Caroline, Or Change: Moon Change
Caroline, Or Change: Moon Trio
Caroline, Or Change: The Bus
Caroline, Or Change: That Can't Be
Caroline, Or Change: Noah and Rose
Caroline, Or Change: Inside/Outside
Caroline, Or Change: JFK
Caroline, Or Change: Duets: No One Waitin'
Caroline, Or Change: Duets: 'Night Mamma
Caroline, Or Change: Duets: Gonna Pass Me a Law
Caroline, Or Change: Duets: Noah Go to Sleep
Caroline, Or Change: Noah Has a Problem
Caroline, Or Change: Stuart and Noah
Caroline, Or Change: Quarter in the Bleach Cup
Caroline, Or Change: Caroline Takes My Money Home
Caroline, Or Change: Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw
Caroline, Or Change: Santa Comin' Caroline
Caroline, Or Change: Little Reward
Caroline, Or Change: 1943
Caroline, Or Change: Mr. Gellman's Shirt
Caroline, Or Change: Ooh Child
Caroline, Or Change: Rose Recovers
Caroline, Or Change: I Saw Three Ships
Caroline, Or Change: The Chanukah Party
Caroline, Or Change: Dotty and Emmie
Caroline, Or Change: I Don't Want My Child to Hear That
Caroline, Or Change: Mr. Stopnick and Emmie
Caroline, Or Change: Kitchen Fight
Caroline, Or Change: A Twenty Dollar Bill and Why
Caroline, Or Change: I Hate the Bus
Caroline, Or Change: Moon, Emmie and Stuart Trio
Caroline, Or Change: The Twenty Dollar Bill
Caroline, Or Change: Caroline and Noah Fight
Caroline, Or Change: Aftermath
Caroline, Or Change: Sunday Morning
Caroline, Or Change: Lot's Wife
Caroline, Or Change: Salty Teardrops
Caroline, Or Change: Why Does Our House Have a Basement?
Caroline, Or Change: Underwater
Caroline, Or Change: Epilogue

Show History


Tony Kushner's heart-wrenching, powerful tale of the relationship between a young Jewish boy and his family's African-American maid is loosely based on events from the author's own childhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Set in the civil rights era 1963, Caroline, Or Change was originally written for the San Francisco Opera. When that arrangement fell through, the project was picked up by the Public Theater and its Artistic Director, George C. Wolfe. Composer Jeanine Tesori was brought on to musicalize Kushner's libretto, and Wolfe suggested Tonya Pinkins for the pivotal title role.


Caroline, Or Change was first workshopped in October of 2002. The following year, Caroline, Or Change opened at the Public Theater on November 30, 2003. In addition to Tonya Pinkins, the cast included Harrison Chad, Anika Noni Rose, Chuck Cooper, Veanne Cox and Alice Playten. Instantly, there were rave reviews for Pinkins' tour-de-force performance and declarations that Caroline, Or Change was a landmark achievement in musical theater. The Public Theater engagement extended twice and subsequently transferred to Broadway.

Caroline, Or Change began previews at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on April 12, 2004 and opened on May 2, 2004. The show closed in August of 2004. Engagements followed in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, in which both Pinkins and Rose appeared alongside much of the original cast. Tonya Pinkins repeated her performance when Caroline, Or Change played London's Royal National Theater in the fall of 2006.

Critical Reaction

"One of the most significant musicals to reach the New York stage in recent years." -Peter Marks, Washington Post

"A 'breakthrough' that almost seems to have discovered a new genre." -Richard Zoglin, Time

"Kushner's great achievement is to make the political personal in a work that combines great dramatic intensity with wild flights of fantasy and music of thrilling variety and strength." -Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

"The real joy lies in finding a musical that combines compassion with social awareness." -Michael Billington, Guardian Unlimited

Drama Desk Award

2004 - Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Anika Noni Rose)
2004 - Outstanding Director Of A Musical, Nominee (George C. Wolfe)
2004 - Oustanding New Musical, Nominee (Caroline, Or Change)
2004 - Outstanding Book of a Musical, Nominee (Tony Kushner)
2004 - Outstanding Lyrics, Nominee (Tony Kushner)
2004 - Outstanding Music, Winner (Jeanine Tesori)
2004 - Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Tonya Pinkins)

Tony® Award

2004 - Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Winner (Anika Noni Rose)
2004 - Best Original Score, Nominee (Lyrics by Tony Kushner; Music by Jeanine Tesor)
2004 - Best Book Of A Musical, Nominee (Tony Kushner)
2004 - Best Direction Of A Musical, Nominee (George C. Wolfe)
2004 - Best Musical, Nominee (Caroline, or Change)
2004 - Best Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Tonya Pinkins)

Outer Critics Circle Award

2004 - Outstanding Broadway Musical, Nominee ()
2004 - Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Tonya Pinkins)
2004 - Outstanding Direction of a Musical, Nominee (George C. Wolfe)

Theatre World

2004 - Outstanding Debut Performance, Winner (Anika Noni Rose)




Under the terms and conditions of your organisation’s Performance Agreement, the following credits must appear on all advertising (including websites) relating to the production. Credits must be reproduced faithfully in accordance with the following layout. No alterations or deletions can be permitted unless stated below.
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Book and Lyrics by
Music by



Originally Directed on Broadway by George C. Wolfe 25%
Originally Produced on Broadway by: Carole Shorenstein Hays, 25%
HBO Films, Jujamcyn Theatre, Freddy DeMann, Scott Rudin,
Hendel/Morten/Wiesenfeld, Fox Theatricals/Manocherian/Bergere,
Roger Berlind, Clear Channel Entertainment, Joan Cullman,
Greg Holland/Scott Nederlander, Margo Lion, Daryl Roth,
Zollo/Sine in association with the Public Theatre.
Originally Developed and Produced in October 2003 by the Public Theatre; 25%
George C. Wolfe, Producer; Mara Manus, Executive Producer.
The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited.

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