TYLER SYMONE: In “Caroline, or Change” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERTO ROMEU

Coral Gables, Fla. – A Broadway musical that was nominated for eight Tony Awards, “Caroline or Change” tells a story about political and social change set in Louisiana in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and America got involved in the Vietnam War.

More than 200 people turned out March 29 for opening night at the Miracle Theatre, 201 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, where the Actors’ Playhouse production is playing through April 14, and gave applause at the end of each act. The ovation reached a crescendo at the conclusion of the show by Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Tony Kushner.

Louisiana was among the battlegrounds for racial tension as Blacks and whites clashed over equality during the Civil Rights movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The characters in the production ignited conversations about humanity and diversity, and collaborating blues, gospel and soul-stringing Klezmer Jewish melodies into a production in which cast members delivered vocals describing their personal and heartbreaking experiences.

The story is based on Caroline Thibodeaux, a 39-year-old Black housekeeper working for a white Jewish family, who is divorced and struggling to take care of her three young kids on a $30-a-week salary.

She had to leave her abusive husband and find a new life for her and her kids during the most difficult times of the 1960s dealing with racism, antisemitism, poverty, and shades of slavery.

Portrayed by Broadway actress Kareema Khouri, Caroline, struggling with her own identity, also has to deal with her employers’ personal tragedy.

The wife died from cancer, leaving her 11-year-old son Noah Gellman, played by Franco Kiglies, devastated and the father questioning his faith in God.

The family is trying to cope with her death by engaging in music but Noah refused to play his instrument.

According to the production, Noah’s mother was a smoker which probably led to her cancer death.

Despite Caroline’s struggles, Noah sees her as a strong person, even stronger than his somber father.

Khouri is an experienced Broadway actress having been cast in productions at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre as Shirelle/Lucille in “Beautiful," The Carole King Musical, and national concerts including “100 Years of Broadway,” “Fifty Years of Rock in Roll” and “8 Years of Soul.”

Franco, a young charismatic and energetic actor, was trained in on-camera acting, Broadway musical theater, singing, voice-over and dubbing. He recently was cast as Edmund in the “Narnia the Musical” and George in “Stuart Little the Musical.”

During an interview with the South Florida Times, Khouri, who was born in New York and raised in Miami, said playing the lead character of Caroline was one of the biggest but hardest roles she ever played.

"Because it was all musical, I researched and started studying before rehearsal because I knew how difficult this musical was," she said.

"As a little exercise, I watched “The Help” and “The Color Purple” since its production was based in the 1960s with an African American woman doing domestic work. For me, it can relate because I’m married and have three boys in sports. It took a lot of homework."

Khouri thanked Artist Director David Arisco for doing this type of music.

"It melted my heart," she said. "I’m grateful for him for doing this show, taking a leap of faith and believing in me."

Franco Kiglies, who played Noah, said the role was different from other characters he played because there was a lot of singing.

"It was super hard but I ended up doing a great job," he said.

Kiglies, who was born in Chicago and currently lives in the South Florida area, said he prepared for the role with the help of Arisco by listening to music. He said he hopes to land a role in Christmas shows by Actors’ Playhouse but his biggest goal is the big screen someday.

"Something like live action movies," he said. "I would like to be the next Spiderman."

Barbara Stein, a founding member of the Actors’ Playhouse, said the production brought diversity to Miami and reminded the audience of what American history reflected during the 1960s.

"The show opens your mind, makes you remember history and realize history repeats itself," she said. "It never changes. It sends a good heartwarming message about the importance of humanity."

Artistic Director David Arisco said he saw the Broadway show 20 years ago and fell in love with it.

"I thought we would never have the opportunity to do it but we did," he said. "You surround yourself with people of diversity… I’m a white guy but love being around the people and the different music. Every character goes through changes and the production touches your soul and makes a difference."

Audience member Jeffrey Allen said the play was splendid but the musical production should’ve had a little dialogue to go along with the singing. "But the singing and actors were superb in their performances," said Allen, an attorney and former City of Miami commissioner.

Taylor Patton of the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, said the character of Caroline is similar to the experiences of Black women.

"I was feeling out what type of person she was and as the show progressed, her character reminded us of what plenty of Black women go through," Patton said. "But I loved the play and the character’s development throughout the show was my favorite."

Michelle Prescott encouraged more people to turn out. "I thought it was a wonderful play," said Prescott, who attended the show with her husband, Circuit Court Judge Orlando Prescott. "I love the singing and the story behind it. I thought the actors were excellent. We really had a good time."