“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” reveals Sharon D Clarke of “Caroline, or Change.” The British theater veteran made her Broadway debut in the title role of the recent revival of the Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori musical. The actress starred in a production of the show in Chichester, only to see her reprise the character in Hampstead, the West End, and finally on Broadway. The New York mounting at Roundabout Theater earned Clarke her first Tony Award nomination. “I’m living my best life, absolutely,” beams the actress. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Clarke never dreamt she would be able to spend such a long time with the character across multiple productions and a nearly 2-year Broadway shutdown. But that time offered her the opportunity to test out new approaches to her performance. “Being able to live with a character for that time and being able to get under their skin…it’s just a gift,” explains Clarke. Each incarnation brought with it different cast members to volley with, which the actress says helped her to “find different ways of getting through the character.” It’s a process that is all about a sense of play, and being open to whatever new line delivery or characterization is thrown at her.
“I think the Broadway shutdown actually helped us, as the Broadway cast, to get an even deeper hold on it,” posits Clarke. Part of that sentiment is because her co-stars had the time to get as familiar with the script and the music as she had become. Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement which emerged during the pandemic, helped inform the entire production. Suddenly, a musical that originally premiered in 2003, telling a story of 1960’s America, felt more relevant than ever. “Here we are in 2021, really being able to hold that story to the forefront and ask how much has changed,” describes Clarke. “Everything in its time, you know?”
One of Clarke’s most impressive moments in her tour de force performance occurs with “Lot’s Wife,” one of the all time great, blow-the-roof-off-the-house eleven o’clock numbers. “That’s the moment where there is this recognition,” reveals Clarke, “that everything that has befallen her up to this point is taking her to a place, and a person, that she doesn’t want to be.” Caroline has just laid hate onto an eight year old boy, and can’t forgive herself for her actions.
The rollercoaster of a song which ensues is thrilling for the audiences, but took time for the actress to conquer. “Lot’s Wife is an absolute bugger to learn,” Clarke states with a blunt laugh. The tempo changes on a dime, the music shifts in genre, and the dynamics force the actress to belt to the rafters in one minute but pull back into her head voice the next. “It’s madness,” she exclaims. “But once it’s under your skin, it’s the most glorious road map,” Clarke reveals, “then you can fly…and ride the crest of that emotional wave.” Thankfully, the daunting song turned into “a joy” to perform each night.
Clarke is a three-time Olivier Award winner for “Caroline, or Change,” “The Amen Corner” and “Death of a Salesman.” She has three additional Olivier nominations for “Ghost,” “We Will Rock You” and “Once on This Island.” She will return to Broadway next season with the transfer of the West End revival of “Death of a Salesman,” alongside Wendell Pierce and Andre de Shields.
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