Director George C. Wolfe couldn't have assembled a more magnificent cast to communicate Tesori's music and Kushner's words. (The performances were so engaging that I couldn't help wishing Riccardo Hernández's clunky, constantly trundling set would get stuck in the wings and leave the singing and acting to set the scene themselves.) At the center, a colossus astride an ironing board, stands Pinkins. Dressed in a matronly white maid's uniform with a scowl permanently fixed to her face, she makes an unlikely heroine. Her voice -- honeyed in the upper register, growling down below -- relates Pinkins' Caroline more closely to the great tragic heroines of opera, like Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, than to, say, the central character of a musical, like Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita Perón.
Awards ceremonies are, as we all know, a notorious waste of time. There's little point to them besides, for the producers, the potential for future financial success and, for us spectators, a chance to glimpse the latest designer frocks. It's no surprise that Caroline, or Change -- which resists categorization -- won only one Tony (Anika Noni Rose garnered Best Actress in a Featured Role -- Musical for her feisty performance as Caroline's daughter, Emmie). But to consider it as being, in Kushner's words, "more like a play" than a musical is to downplay the melodies and harmonies that make it truly great. Perhaps the Tony committee should consider adding a category for "Best American Folk Opera" in 2005.