‘Suffs’ on Broadway review: Not a triumph but it’s gotten better

NEW YORK — When Shaina Taub’s musical “Suffs” premiered at the Public Theater two years ago, covid plagued the company and even led to the cancellation of opening night. But that wasn’t really the problem. If anything, the show, about American suffragettes’ struggle to win women’s right to vote, suffered from self-inflicted wounds: it was a didactic, boring, overstuffed mess.

That “Suffs” would come back, and on Broadway it wasn’t an exciting prospect either. And while it didn’t magically transform into a great spectacle, version 2.0 is tighter, more confident, often catchy and downright entertaining. We can only be glad that the creative team, led by Taub, who wrote the book and music, and director Leigh Silverman, did not back down.

“Suffs” takes place in the few years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. The series focuses particularly on a group of five real-life activists, led by the indefatigable Alice Paul. (Taub). But Paul isn’t getting as much attention as she did in 2022 — the revamped musical is more ensemble-based. This not only reflects the collective aspect of activism, but also comes as a relief to Taub, whose acting and singing skills are not as sharp as her songwriting skills. (She and most of the cast are returnees.)

Meeting the members of the aforementioned quintet is one of the most fascinating parts of the series, as forming a crack team always is, whether that team is fighting a galactic villain, writing a report on Russian interference, or fight for equality. Here we have Paul’s loyal friend Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino), charismatic lawyer Inez Milholland (Hannah Cruz, a worthy replacement for Phillipa Soo), aspiring author Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi) and socialist firebrand Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck).

“Suffs” now does a better job of integrating the blind spots of white activists, including their strained relationships with their black counterparts, represented here by Ida B. Wells (Nikki M. James) and Mary Church Terrell (Anastacia McCleskey). For example, to appease his Southern donors, Paul suggests that the “colored delegation” go to the back of a major women’s march on Washington. (The behind-the-scenes negotiations and compromises that take place before major decisions should be all too familiar to one of the show’s producers, Hillary Clinton.)

Tensions within a political camp can be fascinating, and in this case they involved Goldilocks arguments about tactics: too fast or too slow? Too much or not enough ? Although Paul isn’t radical enough for Wells and Church Terrell, she’s a firebrand compared to older reformist Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella, Tony nominee for “Come From Away”), who advocates waiting for the right moment to act, which will surely come… one day. As for the government establishment, it’s represented by a ridiculously dismissive President Woodrow Wilson (Grace McLean) who can’t wait to get rid of these feminist parasites.

That’s a lot of people to crowd the story and, sometimes, the stage – although they all look stunning in Paul Tazewell’s period costumes and Lap Chi Chu’s dramatic lighting. And none of them are explored in depth. A character’s illness is revealed and the next thing you know, she dies. This occurs just after Alice Paul pressures her to give an additional speech, but neither Taub’s writing nor her performance suggests Paul’s ruthless drive. The series struggles to suggest the pain and anger these women felt. It’s the more experienced actresses who tend to extract the pathos from the book and songs, with James burning with a particularly intense flame.

What “Suffs” captures is the excitement and urgency of being drawn into the fight for a just cause, and discovering yourself and your peers in the process. Among the most striking changes to the score – which has been judiciously edited as a whole – is the new number in which the five agitators declare with giddiness and pride: “I’m a big American asshole.”

It’s a brazen act of reclamation, but for the most part, “Suffs,” while often very funny, sticks to a serious, irony-free mode that allows it to fully own a call to weapons driving at the end: “Will you fail or prevail, well you may never know,” Paul sings. “But keep walking, keep walking.”

Suffer, currently underway at the Music Box Theater in New York. 2 hours 30 minutes, including an intermission. suffsmusical.com.

Gn entert
News Source : www.washingtonpost.com


With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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