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For Sharon D Clarke, a ‘Big Sing’ and a Big Broadway Moment

“Every time Rose calls her Carolyn, I make her flinch,” Clarke said. “Every time.”

The daughter of a seamstress and a carpenter, Clarke sees playing Caroline as “a chance to honor all maids, all women, all single mothers, all Black women trying to make their way through this life.”

“In a way for me,” she added, “it’s honoring my mum, who left Jamaica in the ’50s to come to England to forge a new way for us in a society that didn’t want them. You know: ‘No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs.’”

Racism and the accelerating fight for civil rights are central themes in “Caroline, or Change,” whose Broadway premiere was directed by George C. Wolfe and starred Pinkins in the title role, with Anika Noni Rose as Caroline’s fiery teenage daughter, Emmie.

Tesori, who said Clarke is “a beautiful collaborator,” is struck by a particular quality she believes Clarke and Pinkins have in common.

“These women who take center stage,” she said, “I always feel like they’re incredibly fragile and incredibly enduring. There is something about their ability to go what I call D.F.C., down [expletive] center, and own it. There is no question about whether they should be there.”

Kushner based the show partly on his own childhood in Lake Charles, and Caroline loosely on Maudie Lee Davis, who worked for his family and gave him permission to dedicate it to her. Out of all he has written, he said, “I think it’s my favorite thing.”

He was in London for rehearsals of “Angels in America” at the National Theater in 2017 when Longhurst invited him to what he said would be a very rough run-through of the first act of “Caroline.” He warned that Clarke, who was starring in a West End show at the time, would not be singing full out. Yet Kushner, then new to her work, thought it was “one of the most electrifying performances I’ve ever seen.”

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