A musical Change of scenery for Peninsula child actor

Preparing for the role of Noah in “Caroline, Or Change,” young Julian Hornik had much to learn about Louisiana, circa 1963 — the setting for Tony Kushner’s celebrated musical.

For starters, the 12-year-old actor had never heard of bubblegum cigarettes.

But in other respects, playing the boy who befriends the family maid should be a cinch for Hornik. Both he and his character are Jewish.

In fact, Jewish overtones — musical and otherwise — abound in the 2004 Tony Award-winning musical, which features a score by Jeanine Tesori and a libretto by Kushner. Loosely based on Kushner’s childhood, the story invokes racial tensions, the Kennedy assassination and Jewish life in the South.

TheatreWorks’ production of “Caroline, Or Change” plays April 2 to 27 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

“It’s probably in my top five favorite shows ever,” says the Palo Alto resident. “There’s nothing like it. The music is gorgeous. Tony Kushner is a genius.”

Hornik has earned the right to weigh in. Though not yet bar mitzvah age, he is a veteran of local productions of “Merrily We Roll Along,” “My Antonia” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

In “Caroline, Or Change,” Hornik has a major role, requiring not only singing through the score, but portraying a complex relationship with Caroline the maid (played by C. Kelly Wright).

“Our relationship is weird,” says Hornik. “Noah’s mother has died. His father is in his own world. The only person that’s stayed the same is Caroline, and he looks at her like a mother now. He goes to her when he can, he lights her cigarettes. I think she cares about him, but she’s trying hard not to.”

Though she’s worked faithfully for the family, Caroline has enough troubles of her own. When Noah’s new stepmother tells Caroline to keep any change she finds in Noah’s pockets, an explosive confrontation is set in motion.

Along the way, composer Tesori turns in a delectable score with tips to Mozart, Wagner, Motown and even the famous “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” song, a tune Hornik did not have to learn from scratch.

He learned it growing up in a Jewish home and attending preschool at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center.

Later the family moved to Palo Alto, but by then Hornik had already launched his stage career with a walk-on in a local production of “Madame Butterfly.” He went on to work in children’s theater and, eventually, full-fledged musical theater.

The Jordan Middle School student isn’t content merely to perform in musicals. He’s writing one, too, based on the life of Anne Frank.

“My parents went to the Anne Frank House and bought me the diary,” he recalls. “I read it, and said, ‘That’s depressing. I think I’ll write a musical.'”

Whether or not his musical makes it to Broadway, Hornik intends on making it to New York City’s Great White Way, no matter what.

“I’ve planned out everything,” he says, “right up to my studio apartment.”

“Caroline, Or Change” plays Tuesdays through Sundays, April 2-27, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets: $25-$61. Information: (650) 903-6000 or online at www.theatreworks.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.