Women Take the Stage

NYC theaters are filled with a record-smashing number of productions by and about women

| 30 Mar 2022 | 11:37

The show is called “POTUS,” but rather than focusing on the one who rules the country, it’s about seven key women behind him. Another is called “Six,” and the half dozen who take the stage are the former wives of Henry VIII. (He is nowhere to be seen.) You might think “Hitler’s Tasters” would be about that autocrat’s yes-men, but these are young women who risked their lives to ensure the Fuhrer did not lose his. “SUFFS” may sound like a new form of tissue, but it is a new musical about those who made the 19th Amendment happen.

I could go on – and I will – because the stages of New York are filled with a record-smashing number of productions by and about women. Statistically this seems appropriate, in that women attend shows more often than men.

And it helps that there are dynamic producers like Dale Franzen, Tony-winner for “Hadestown.” She is currently involved with “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” now in previews on Broadway. Franzen says, “I have always been interested in expanding the table, not excluding but including. With ‘Hadestown,’ I didn’t think twice in partnering with another woman. I realize that is not the same for other types of folks or women would not be 23% of Broadway producers!! I am drawn to untold stories about women and there are so many historical and also fictional ones that need telling.”

Stacey Sargeant, who plays Lady in Blue in “for colored girls ...” says, “With this show we get to commune and have full experiences as performers without having to be apologetic about who we are and all the colors of life we experience as Black women living in America ... being able to share all of who we are with an audience now, feels right on time to me.”

Those stories resonate, sometimes accidentally. Michelle Kholos Brooks, the playwright behind “Hitler’s Tasters,” which opens soon at off-Broadway’s Theatre Row, says, “who knew the world would be watching another autocrat at this time? More important, there is not a woman in the world who has not felt the fear brought on by an unhinged male with power. In ‘Hitler’s Tasters,’ we have the heartbreaking experience of watching them submit to their fate.”

Likewise, “Americano!,” which opens soon at New World Stages, deals with immigration in a personal and resonant musical. The book was written by former New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos, making her first foray in theater. “I never imagined I would write for the stage,” she says, “but I did so much reporting about young immigrants who were not afraid to speak up, so I fit the bill. Women can be our own worst enemies when we restrain ourselves from trying new things.”

Sexual Abuse Theme

The issue-oriented stories continue. Coming to the Cherry Lane Theatre is Alison Leiby’s “Oh God, A Show About Abortion,” directed by Lila Neugebauer. A revival of “How I learned to Drive,” written by Paula Vogel and starring Mary Louise Parker, is hitting Broadway. That one catches the sexual abuse theme in new ways. The current crop also includes “Little Girl Blue” (about civil rights activist and singer Nina Simone), “Oratorio For Living Things,” (about time and space in these quarantining years) and “Help,” Claudia Rankine’s take on white male privilege at The Shed.

One of the most anticipated on Broadway is “POTUS.” This comes from the young playwright Selina Fillinger, working alongside Tony-winning director Susan Stroman. “Says Fillinger, “I don’t personally know any people who work in the White House, but that didn’t feel like an artistic obstacle, since the setting is simply a framing device for a larger thematic discussion. For years we’ve had this endless news cycle of men abusing their power, and I’m always fascinated by the women orbiting them. All I had to do was imagine those women’s daily hell.” With a cast that includes Rachel Dratch, Julie White and Vanessa Williams, the show is described as a farce. Fillinger says, ”We need to hold each other, and we need to laugh. “

The fact that women can be funny is not a new realization, but it’s prominently displayed as never before. “Jane Anger,” written by Talene Monahon, an LOL piece that just concluded a run downtown, dealt with women in Shakespeare’s life. “At the Wedding,” by Bryna Turner, is a hilarious and perceptive 70-minute piece currently at Lincoln Center’s smallest venue.

“Confederates,” which combines humor with politics, has just opened at off-Broadway’s Signature, and comes from two women of color, the prolific playwright Dominique Morrisseau, and director Stori Ayers. It travels back and forth between today’s classroom and yesterday’s plantations, dealing with the gender and racial inequities.

Other prestigious off-Broadway companies have been largely female-driven recently: The Vineyard presented “Sandblasted,” about three women on a spiritual journey; New York Theatre Workshop offered “On Sugarland,” written by highly regarded Alshea Harris; The Public gave us “The Chinese Lady” about the first Asian woman to enter this country. Female voices from other countries have also filled our stages: “Selling Kabul” was Playwright Horizon’s powerful play by Sylvia Khoury, “English” at The Atlantic Theatre Co., was penned by Sanaz Toosi.

“SUFFS,” about the diverse group of women who fought for the vote, features the work of an all-female crew headed by Shaina Taub. It has already sold out its run at the Public, and doesn’t even open until the beginning of April. The politically-themed and colorblind-cast show is performing in the same theater where “Hamilton” was born.

Daryl Roth will premiere “Between The Lines” in June. Based on a book by Jodi Picoult, it follows a young girl going through a difficult time at home and at a new school. “We were very drawn by the story of a girl learning how to harness her own voice,” says Kate Anderson, who co-wrote the songs with Elyssa Samsel. “Our character learns that you can live the story you want, not just the one you’ve been living,” adds Samsel.

And let’s not forget the successful productions continuing on the Broadway stages. “SIX” is the hottest new musical of the 2022 season. “Company,” a Best Revival candidate for the Tonys in June, has switched its male commitment-phobe lead to a female. “Wicked,” about those witches from Oz, remains an SRO ticket, and “Tina,” about Ms. Turner, is hanging on. Even “Chicago” — with new cast member Pamela Anderson — is still on Broadway, focusing on those deliciously devious broads.

And soon to officially revive — for the first time since a lady named Barbra made her name — is a little musical called “Funny Girl.”

Michele Willens’ “Stage Right...or Not” airs weekly on the NPR affiliate, robinhoodradio.