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Everybody Ought to Have a Maid

Hollywood Records releases the original Broadway cast recording of Caroline, or Change on two CDs. logo
It's not surprising that the first new 2-CD Broadway original cast recording since Ragtime is that of Caroline, or Change. The musical boasts an impressive pedigree, with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and music by Jeanine Tesori, and the almost entirely through-sung show certainly has enough music to fill up two discs. For daring to preserve the musical in its entirety, Hollywood Records deserves a great deal of credit. Most musical-theater fans won't want to be without this recording.

The album will appeal to those who have seen and admired Caroline but those who are unfamiliar with this unique musical may well find the track list daunting: There are no fewer than 53 items here, many of which bear oblique titles like "Dotty and Caroline," "Smart and Noah," and "Moon, Emmie and Stuart Trio." And the fact that characters include The Washing Machine, The Radio, The Dryer, The Moon, and The Bus is certain to raise an eyebrow or two.

But if the recording suffers a bit from the lack of visuals that make it easier to absorb the show's fairy-tale strangeness much easier at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, it's still a satisfying listen. Some particularly noteworthy tracks can be singled out -- e.g., the rousing first-act finale "Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw," sung by Tony winner Anika Noni Rose, or the earth-shaking 11 o'clock number "Lot's Wife" for the all-encompassing Tonya Pinkins, triumphing in a monumental role. But this is a score best experienced on disc as in the theater, straight through from beginning to end. That allows the magical yet grounded drama about the social and economic situation of a black maid working for a Jewish family in 1963 Louisiana to make its full effect. The resultant listening experience is quite different from the way Caroline plays out onstage -- even though, as far as I can tell, the recording contains all of the show's music and dialogue -- but is effective on its own terms.

The songs that Kushner and Tesori have concocted are unlikely to supplant in popularity those of two other 1960s-set shows currently running on Broadway, Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors. Still, their complexity and cleverness makes this a score that -- like the work of Stephen Sondheim and Michael John LaChiusa -- benefits greatly from repeated exposure. As such, the recording is likely to generate new fans and keep the old ones listening time and time again.

Tesori also produced the album; it has a highly theatrical sound, and the orchestra (only slightly augmented) sounds good throughout under Linda Twine's direction. The CD booklet includes all of Kushner's lyrics, a handful of small but nice color photos, and notes by "novelist, short story writer, and essayist" Lynne Tillman that include multiple references to Chuck Cooper's character as a "busdriver" rather than as The Bus itself. Other than that error, there aren't many problems to found with the original Broadway cast recording of Caroline, or Change.

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