‘Suffs The Musical’ is as Awe-inspiring As It Is Timely

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Much like the movies, going to a Broadway show for many is having the ability to shut their mind off for a moment. Being there, among the audience and absorbing what’s happening on stage, you don’t have to think about what’s happening in the world for a few hours. However, there are some musicals and shows that come along and, by design, stop and make you reflect on the society we all reside in. Shows like To Kill a Mockingbird and Hamilton for example, which provide commentary about America’s past and how certain negative patterns of behavior still exist here and now. These types of shows tend to leave a lasting impact on both Broadway itself and the minds of the people who attend them. Joining the ranks of the aforementioned shows is the new Suffs The Musical, which opened on April 18 at The Music Box Theatre.

Created by Shaina Taub, Suffs The Musical began its developmental journey back in 2016, with an eventual off-Broadway run at the Public Theater in 2022. Due to the reception that it received, it has now found a new home on Broadway proper, with powerful activists such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Malala Yousafzai producing the show and Leigh Silverman directing.

Telling the important story of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement of the early 1900s, Suffs The Musical shines a light on not just the plight of women, but the struggle that so many minorities face, both then and now. With memorable songs and strong performances by the cast, Suffs is exactly the show that the world needs right now and is easily one of the best currently on Broadway.

Continue to learn more about why you should check out Suffs when you head to NYC!

[Warning: spoilers from Suffs The Musical are below!]

Suffs The Musical takes on women’s suffrage and equal rights for all

At the point in which Suffs begins, Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella) has been fighting for women’s right to vote for years. Her approach to righting the equality injustices between men and women is soft. Appeal through kindness and conformity. “Let Mother Vote” is the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) slogan, which Carrie serves as President.

Being that it was the early 1900s, Carrie believed the only way to gain the right to vote was to appeal calmly but firmly to the men who made the calls. However, dissent begins to grow between the elder suffragists and the young generation, with the new generation’s voice being that of Alice Paul, played by alternate Hawley Gould in this show.

Alice Paul is passionate about earning the right to vote, but her ideas of how to gain it differ immensely from those of Carrie Chapman Catt. Alice is ready for a movement, a statement against the government and President Woodrow Wilson (Grace McLean). Change happens through speaking out against those who are in direct opposition. Her position grates Carrie greatly, causing Alice to be shunned from the NAWSA, and having to forge her own path forward towards change. However, she won’t be alone, as winning a war takes an army.

Joining Alice early in her endeavors is her best friend Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino), who serves as the perfect foil to Alice’s intensity. Lucy is more reserved than her friend, though no less passionate about the right to vote. She balances Alice, who thinks before she acts many times, which tends to rub many people the wrong way. Together, these two women begin collecting a team that serves as the face of a new suffrage moment that is based on action and having a voice for the voiceless. This is where Inez Miholland (Hannah Cruz) and Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck) come into the picture.

Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells and Suffs Company. Suffs The Musical
Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells and Suffs Company. Suffs The Musical (Joan Marcus).

Inez is both the embodiment of the movement and also the pretty face that Alice and Lucy are hoping will encourage other women to join their ranks, as well as to get men to finally listen for once. She’s a socialite who uses her platform to speak out against many social injustices, which makes her the perfect choice to lead this new movement. But again, everything is about balance, so equal the scales for the eventual National Woman’s Party is the Polish-American Ruza, who becomes known as Rose to her friends. Rose is feisty and slightly intimidating due to her radical nature.

And of course, where would any great movement be without a secretary to document every step along the way? Rounding out the group is Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi), a timid young woman, with strong convictions and the desire to do right by all those opposed by government and society.

These five quickly become friends (and eventually family), joining together in a fight that never ends, but begins a movement that changes America for the better. Their journey isn’t easy, with each of them facing great losses. For every step forward there are more and more obstacles, as Suffs touches on not just the suffrage movement, but also on the struggle for POC told through the eyes of Ida B. Wells (Nikki M. James), Mary Church Terrell (Anastaćia McCleskey), and her daughter Phyllis (Laila Erica Drew), members of the LGBTQ+ at the turn of the century. 

A powerful, inspirational, and inclusive story helps makes this a top-tier Broadway show

I feel like I should preface this section by stating that Suffs The Musical wasn’t even on my radar when I was planning this current trip to New York City. If I was going by myself, I might not have even thought of purchasing a ticket to see it, the decision to go came down to my friend whose desire to go was strong. But man, I’m so glad we decided to attend Suffs, as it easily is one of my favorites that I’ve seen in recent years.

Let that sink in for a moment. I’ve been to NYC three times in the past two years and have taken in over 30 shows between Broadway proper and Detroit. Of the plethora of shows and musicals that I’ve seen throughout this wild journey, Suffs The Musical is top tier among them, and I almost missed out on it because it wasn’t even on my radar. But it should absolutely be on every theater lover’s radar, as Suffs contains so much to love for everyone who chooses to sit within their hollowed halls.

Hannah Cruz as Inez Milholland. Suffs the Musical
Hannah Cruz as Inez Milholland. Suffs the Musical (Joan Marcus).

The story itself is a powerful one, which is to be expected when exploring the real-life struggles of women who lived through the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The world was unkind to anyone who wasn’t a cis-gendered white male, and Suffs showcases just how cruel the world was. It doesn’t shy away from the ugly truths, but instead embraces them, reminding the audience of why the fight was important and that we must continue for those who don’t currently have a voice. I loved how well Suffs The Musical explored this topic, using Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell’s real-life stories as the groundwork.

These two women, as well as other black women at the time, pushed for the right to vote, knowing full well that the right wasn’t truly for themselves. And yet, they don’t stop pushing forward, through the exhaustion, knowing that they’ll have to continue on if they truly want freedom for themselves and others like them.

It’s heartbreaking, but that’s part of the charm of the show, as there is plenty from the show that rips your heart out of your chest. Again, I’m not surprised with the topic and style of the show that so much would hurt. However, part of the healing process is to hurt and grieve, finding peace on the other side, which is exactly the therapeutic experience I felt from watching Suffs The Musical.

In the landscape of current musicals, there are two types, those who use a combination of dialogue and music to tell the story, and then those who utilize more music and singing than dialogue to move the story forward. In a similar style to Hamilton, Suffs The Musical falls into the latter camp, with the songs taking up the majority of the show.

In the move from off-Broadway to Broadway, the songs almost doubled in number, signifying just how much the show changed into its current iteration. Still, each song is as impressive as the last, between the incredible voices and the intensity and emotions that so many of them bring. There were a few songs that brought me to tears, crying through so many parts due to how moved I was.

Usually, this is where I talk about the one or two actors or performances that stood out, making the musical exceptional in some way or another. It’s difficult to remove one particular actor as the star, when each and every performer that walked onto that stage gave it their all. Every person in Suffs The Musical was fantastic from the first moment to the last, with so much talent infused into the show.

There were definitely some stories that I felt more connected with, but that wasn’t due to the actors, but to where I am in my life. There’s not a weak person among the bunch, which speaks to how incredible Suffs The Musical is. 

The greatest part of Suffs The Musical was how inspired I walked away feeling. As a queer man, I know a bit about fighting for rights myself. However, there were times that I took a passive role, feeling tired or just hoping that those in charge would eventually see the light.

Suffs made me feel impassioned to fight for myself and others, recognizing the power that we all have and how the struggle never ends, especially when we remain quiet in the face of adversity. I can’t imagine anyone walking away from the musical and not feeling some sense of power and duty because that is the message of Suffs from start to finish. I hope those who walk out of the show feeling inspired use that energy to change the world, as I intend to do in my own way.

Final thoughts on Suffs the Musical

Suffs The Musical was my wildcard of this trip to NYC. I didn’t know anything about it, and even my knowledge of the actual suffrage moment was lacking. This is a period that isn’t discussed in length in school, although it should be. With that being said, I’m so glad I saw this because Suffs is exactly the type of musical that I needed at this point in my life.

At times, we need to be reminded of the power we have both collectively and individually to change the world for the better. The story of the suffragists is not always an easy pill to swallow, but these types of stories aren’t supposed to be. We should revisit them so we don’t forget and repeat the same problem over and over.

Lovers of classic musicals and the new school ones will find something to love about Suffs The Musical. So while it’s just beginning its run at The Music Box Theatre, you should run to see it as many times as possible. After all, it’s the only way to respect mother’s right to vote.

Suffs the Musical is currently playing at The Music Box Theatre in New York City. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus if you plan on checking this incredibly important musical out.

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 35 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson