Becoming Carol is like being invited to your cousin’s basement to watch one of their shows. It’s a bit rough around the edges, full of heart, a little too long, sometimes boring, but ultimately charming. The difference is that Laura Caswell is probably more talented than your cousin.
As part of the Stages Theatre Festival, Caswell has written and performs in her one-woman show about her love of, and obsession with, Carol Burnett.
While drawing parallels between her and Carol (they both were awkward and funny! they both went to New York to make it big!), she sings a dizzying number of songs made famous by the red-headed comic genius. In an utterly adorable moment near the beginning Caswell plays a tape of her singing “Tomorrow” for her sister, who is heard begging her to stop in the background. It’s one of the best moments in the show; so honest, so real.
Perhaps now is a good time to say I worship at the altar of Carol Burnett. Like Caswell I also watched Annie incessantly as a child. Growing up pre-Youtube, I would watch Carol Burnett reruns as often as possible. I was always excited to see her pop up on the small and big screen, and she makes the movie of Noises Off worth a re-visit. Needless to say I think Carol Burnett is one of, if not the funniest, woman of all time.
Therein lies the problem with Becoming Carol. Caswell is a talented performer. She works her way through the songs with flair, and while she may not have the “oomph” of Burnett’s voice she has a pleasant tone, especially in some of the more ballad-y numbers.
I also loved her and music director Scott White’s Carol Burnett sketch marathon. However some of their banter felt a little forced, including a too-long medley of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and other rounds. Part of the idea of this round bit was that White didn’t know what a round was, but he’s already proven to us he’s a highly skilled musician, and even I, who can only play heart and soul on the piano, know what a round is.
Ultimately Caswell realizes she can’t be Carol. She can only be herself, and this is where Caswell really shines, as some of the best bits come when she slows down and simply enjoys herself on stage. Flubbing a few lines here and there made it wonderfully real, and when she wasn’t trying so hard, like Carol herself, she’s effortless. Feeling as if she was in “look at me” mode at times, Caswell has the talent, but needs to realize we will come to her, she just she has to let us.
At the curtain call Caswell mentioned that this was a work in progress and I’d love to see where the show goes. Becoming Carol is like Ms Burnett herself: quirky, odd, and intriguing. Those are the qualities Caswell shares with Burnett in abundance.
Becoming Carol written and performed by Laura Caswell. A Smile Theatre production playing as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s 2019 Stages Theatre Festival. On stage Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage (1589 Argyle St, Halifax) with a final performance on June 1. Visit easternfronttheatre.com for tickets and information.
Eastern Front Theatre’s 2019 Stages Theatre Festival continues until June 8. Visit easternfronttheatre.com for a complete line-up of remaining shows.