'Caroline, Or Change' performers learned from playby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The women vocalists who portray the radio have an important supporting role in the musical "Caroline, Or Change" at the Guthrie Theater. The radio literally comes alive in the life of the musical's main character.
St. Paul, Minn. — The three young women enter early in the story of Caroline, the African-American maid who does the laundry for her white St. Charles, La., employer. The year is l963. Caroline is a diligent, hardworking, long-suffering single mother of four, one of them off at war.
Caroline labors over the laundry in the stifling basement heat. The washer and then the dryer come to life to remind her of the unchanging nature of her existence. She clicks on the radio for escape.
Lynnea Doublette, Felicia Boswell and Aurelia Williams emerge as the voices of the radio, singing in the Motown style that was sweeping the country at the time.
An early challenge for them was learning about Motown and girl groups in general, the youthful vocalists say. They're from a different era.
"The '90s ... Cabbage Patch, not l963," said Aurelia Williams.
The three used YouTube videos to study the sound and moves of the Supremes, the Marvellettes and the Ronnettes.
The visual effect the radio vocalists create is a sharp contrast to Caroline's world. The maid wears a starched pure white uniform.
Lynnea, Felicia and Aurelia stride on stage wearing pink dresses and pink stiletto-heeled shoes, symbolizing a world of glamour and sensuality Caroline can only dream of.
Felicia, Lynnea and Aurelia laugh and talk over one another as they describe the outfits, in an interview at Minnesota Public Radio.
"I absolutely love the dresses. There are shimmies -- why wouldn't you love them?" Williams said.
"The dresses dance as well, they add to the music. The stilettos, they have a life of their own," Boswell said.
"I love being a girl," Doublette added.
The women say they are having the experience of a lifetime in their roles as "The Radio," and living in the moment. They add, though, they are all acutely aware of the messages of Tony Kushner's musical, "Caroline, Or Change."
Caroline, semi-literate, appears chained to her existence, unlikely to share fully in the opportunities afforded by the growing civil rights movement. Her white employers struggle to understand the changes and their white privilege.
The musical reflects the history and messages she learned as a child, said Felicia Boswell, a native of Montgomery, Ala.
"People forget where we came from, what we had to do to get here to even be able to sit in this room together now," said Boswell. "So, as much fun as we have in the show, there's definitely something that still needs to be learned, or still needs to be heard."
The reaction from "Caroline, Or Change" audiences, the radio vocalists say, includes people waiting for them after the show to express their feelings about the musical's range of emotions, and the messages about class and race.
But tonight will be different.
Instead of being onstage at the Guthrie, the "Caroline, Or Change" cast, including the radio singers, have the night off. So they'll be performing a few blocks away from the Guthrie, at the Dakota jazz club.
T. Mychael Rambo, who portrays the dryer in the Guthrie production, will be master of ceremonies at the Dakota for a program of the blues and gospel, on a stage where the audience will see another dimension of the actors.
"The Dakota isn't scripted, it's live and in color, so it's a little more informal and it should be a good time," said Aurelia Williams.
The cast returns to the Guthrie Tuesday with another performance of "Caroline, Or Change," which runs through June 21.
- All Things Considered, 05/18/2009, 5:54 p.m.