Thursday, May 9, 2024

NYC Theater Trip 2024: "Suffs" at The Music Box Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: Suffs

Location: The Music Box Theatre

Written By: Shaina Taub (music, book, and lyrics)

Summary: The story of the final leg of the fight for women's suffrage, told as a fun and modern musical with an all-female cast.

Highlights: Only the second woman to write the book, music, and lyrics for a Broadway show AND star in it, Shaina Taub has created the musical we need right now. She and director Leigh Silverman have made some significant changes since the musical's premiere Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2022, and 2024 feels like the perfect time for Suffs' Broadway debut. At a time when women's rights are being taken away from us, it's so inspiration to remember a time when we had even fewer rights, and our grandmothers who fought to make our lives better. The story begins in 1913 and focuses on Alice Paul (played by Shaina), the young activist joining the movement led by Carrie Chapman Catt (the divine Jenn Colella), who in turn inherited it from her elder Susan B. Anthony (at this time, the women's suffrage movement was 60 years old!). The musical follows Alice and her friends as they demand their rights now, in opposition to Carrie's more slow methodical methods. We know how this story ends, with women finally winning the right to vote in 1920, but the story of how we got there, and the lesser known women who were instrumental to making it happen, is fascinating to experience. And it's also super fun; these women are very relatable and speak in a modern way (comparisons to Hamilton are not unwarranted). The score is fantastic, and just begging to be sung at the top of one's lungs in the car - "Great American Bitch" is a highlight and a celebration of women who stand up for their and others' rights, "If We Were Married" is a charming way to list all of the ways marriage was a bad deal for women, "The Young Are At the Gates" could be about today, and "Keep Marching" is the anthem we need in this election year (have I mentioned that Hillary Rodham Clinton and Malala are producers?).

The musical also addresses the failings of the Women's Suffrage movement, namely the fact that women of color were left out of the equation, whether by choice or pressure from outside forces. Ida B. Wells (the fantastic Nikki M. James) represents this group well. Other highlights in the cast include a fierce Hannah Cruz as the socialite activist Inez Milholland, Ally Bonino as Alice's loyal friend Lucy Burns, Nadia Dandashi as the bookish secretary Doris Stevens (whose book Jailed for Freedom inspired Shaina to write this musical), and Grace McLean (creator of In the Green, which our own Theatre Elision produced a few months ago) stealing scenes as a buffoonish Woodrow Wilson. I don't think I've ever seen an all-female cast this large (i.e., greater than the 6 of SIX) on Broadway, and it's a thrill. And about time!

The impressive set is comprised of huge white Greek columns, massive stately wooden walls, and a few pieces of period furniture. The women are dressed in period clothing, lots of suffragist while, with purple and yellow, with lighting, sound, and fire (again?!) effects adding impact to the storytelling (Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernández; Costume Design by Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design by Lap Chi Chu; Sound Design by Jason Crystal). Like The Outsiders, the design elements support the story, but it would be great without it too, and I look forward to seeing local productions of this show for decades to come (it very much feels like an Elision kind of show). Keep marching!

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2024 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.