Shaina Taub’s Suffs Takes “The March” to Broadway

This season at the Music Box Theatre audiences can witness the original musical Suffs on Broadway. After a sold out and extended run at The Public Theater (of which FF2 Media covered in 2022) this iteration moved to Broadway in the spring of 2024 to uproarious crowds. The following piece will delve into the season’s politically charged production and the parallel between the events of 110 years ago and today.

With book, music, and lyrics by Shaina Taub (composer and performer of The Public’s Theatreworks productions of Twelfth Night and As You Like It), Suffs follows the story of Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party as they fight for the right to suffrage. Typically Taub plays the role of Paul, but at the production I attended Alice Paul was performed by the alternate, Hawley Gould. Gould previously graced the Broadway stage in The Ferryman and again in last season’s Lincoln Center production of Camelot. Paul’s fire shone through in Gould’s performance inviting the audience into the inner workings of such a brilliant mind. 

Inez Milholland’s story might not have been taught in history class, but her legacy remains in the capable hands of Hannah Cruz.

For many of the cast members, this marks their Broadway debut including standout performer Hannah Cruz (who audiences might have seen in Jason Robert Brown’s The Connector at MCC Theater) as Inez Milholland. Hannah’s powerhouse vocals and commanding stage presence make her the perfect portrayer of Inez Milholland’s tragic demise. Played by Broadway alum Philippa Soo (of Hamilton fame) in The Public run, Inez Milholland’s story might not have been taught in history class, but her legacy remains in the capable hands of Hannah.

This year’s 2024 Outer Critics Circle saw Shaina awarded Outstanding Book of a Musical and Outstanding Score. This awards season also saw Suffs receive Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design (Paul Tazewell), Best Direction of a Musical (Leigh Silverman) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Nikki M. James’s portrayal of Ida B. Wells. Nikki delivers a chilling performance of the song “Wait My Turn,” an anthem about the erasure of Black women from the movement.  

Nikki M. James delivers a chilling performance of the song “Wait My Turn,” an anthem about the erasure of Black women from the movement.  

The intergenerational audience of theatergoers ranged from mothers, daughters, grandmothers, mentors and other configurations of feminists all awaiting to gaze upon the history of the United States. The production does not shy away from the more unsavory moments, complicating our view of the Suffs rather than hailing them as superhuman women. The chorus of “The Young Are At the Gates” took on a meta cadence both on and off the stage.

Click image to enlarge.

As of June 6, 2024 the original cast recording of Suffs is available wherever music streaming occurs. Browsing through the solo numbers as well as the grand ensemble tracks, one has the opportunity to listen to a recording devoid of the voices of cisgender men. The typical “I want” song of the production comes in the form of “Finish the Fight,” a song sung by Alice Paul describing her goal to continue and then end the battle and the war on the way to (white) women’s suffrage. The tune both empowers and fills one with dread knowing that over 100 years later the fight is not finished. Some might even argue that the US is eking towards a more backwards ethos of the Suffs time.

The tune both empowers and fills one with dread knowing that over 100 years later the fight is not finished.

At the time of Suffs premiere at The Public (one of NYC’s most well-renowned Off-Broadway venues) the United States prepared for the lead up to the midterm elections. Two years and many legislative passes limiting the bodily autonomy of marginalized communities later, the country awaits the upcoming presidential election. While every election of a world leader holds weight, this next one seems to hold a particularly tremendous amount of gravity. Nearly one month after the closing of the off-Broadway run of Suffs came the US Supreme Court Dobbs decision which resulted in the overturning of landmark case Roe v. Wade

If it were up to the conservative super majority of the US Supreme Court, the US would not look much different from the world of Alice Paul. The world that she fought so hard to rebel against. Justice Clarence Thomas has said in no uncertain terms that he plans for the court to reconsider the landmark rulings of Griswold (the case recognizing the right to privacy and for married couples to obtain contraception), Lawrence (the case that struck down sodomy laws in Texas), and Obergefell (the case that requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriage). More than ever, voters need to cast their ballots with the Supreme Court in mind if they want to keep progress on the politicians’ agendas. 

Suffs explicitly highlights the companionship and relationship of Carrie Chapman Catt and Mollie Hay. In the musical, they are often portrayed side by side, but forced to keep their intimacy a secret. Are we to harken back to silence and behind closed door relationships of the archaic past?

With such hard hitting players of the feminist movement, Suffs garners the backing of the intergenerational movements that it tries to serve.

Prominent producers who have continued to vocally support the production are former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. With such hard hitting players of the feminist movement, Suffs garners the backing of the intergenerational movements that it tries to serve. 

“How will we find a way when there isn’t one?” is a refrain repeated throughout the musical which elevates the paths that must be forged during unprecedented times. This call to action aims to embolden audiences to get to the polls this fall so that the sacrifice of these women was not in vain. Like all great historical figures, these women had their problematic sides and modern audiences are invited to glimpse them with a critical lens.

© Taylor Beckman (6/9/24) – Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Check out the FF2 exclusive from the production at The Public.

Read more about Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote by Doris Steven, the book which provided the original source material for Suffs.

Watch Nikki M. James of Suffs perform “Wait My Turn” on The Today Show.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured photo: Inez Milholland as shown on stage at Suffs.

Middle photo: The cover of the Playbill program for Suffs.

Bottom photo: The FF2 team (from left to right: Jan, Taylor, and Dorthea) with merchandise from Suffs on Broadway.

Featured and bottom photos provided by Jan Lisa Huttner, taken on 5/4/24 for FF2 Media. Authorized for responsible use as long as user includes link to THIS post in photo credits.

Tags: Alice Paul, Broadway, Carrie Chapman Catt, Hannah Cruz, Hawley Gould, Hillary Clinton, Ida B. Wells, Inez Milholland, Leigh Silverman, Malala Yousafzai, Mollie Hay, Music Box Theatre, National Women's Party, Nikki M. James, Paul Tazewell, Shaina Taub, Suffragists, Suffs, Suffs Musical, Taylor Beckman, The Public, Women's suffrage

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Taylor Beckman (she/her/hers) is a sister, daughter, friend, avid baker, and adorer of Regency-era British television shows. After graduating from Muhlenberg College with degrees in both Psychology and Theatre (acting and directing concentrations), she flew to Europe where she performed as a theatre artist, teaching English in Belgium and France. Once she returned to the States, Taylor pursued a career in acting until the pandemic happened and she changed the trajectory of her life. Taylor is now a student at NYU getting her Masters in Drama Therapy where she hopes to combine her love for theater with the inherent therapeutic qualities that stories possess. When she isn't writing theatrical reviews or profile pieces for FF2, Taylor can be found drinking mint tea and reading a Charlotte Brontë novel. Thank you to Jan and the FF2 Media team for the opportunity to critically engage with people and the art form of performance.
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