EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — The Women’s Suffrage Movement is a pivotal part of United States history. Now, a new musical is taking a look at how American women won the right to vote. The aptly titled “Suffs” is opening at the Public Theater next month.
Beginning in the mid-19th century, women of all ages would take to the streets, demanding equality and that their voices be counted.
The movement took place over decades. Suffs focuses on the years leading up the 19th amendment which was finally ratified in August of 1920.
It stars an all-female cast including Phillipa Soo, best known for originating the role of Eliza Hamilton in the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton.” Soo plays Inez Milholland, a real-life suffragist who led the famous 1913 women’s march in Washington.
“That was the first march on Washington and it was a women’s march,” said Soo. “Inez Milholland was at the head of the march, dressed in white, riding a white horse and was leading this parade on Washington.”
The show was written and composed by Shaina Taub, who also stars as key suffragist, Alice Paul. What sets this retelling apart from others, is the musical seeks not to lionize the figures, but rather, humanize them. They were brilliant, yet flawed women.
“This movement was not a perfect movement,” said Soo. “Women coming together to get this vote to become enfranchised and to be considered equal citizens.”
Jenn Colella portrays political strategist Carrie Chapman Catt. “It’s about a bunch of incredibly creative, courageous women fighting for the same goal,” said Colella. “These women put their actual lives on the line to make sure I could vote in the future, it’s astounding.”
The suffragists were women of different generations, social classes, even race. They were passionate about the cause and not only protested in the traditional sense, but at times those protests turned violent. During a time when a woman’s place in the world was suppressed, these women were not afraid to clash with the men in power or risk getting arrested.
In preparing for her role, Colella said she learned about the complexities of the movement. “I had no idea the breadth of how many people were involved and how much violence they had to go through and how many setbacks throughout the decades they had,” said Colella.
While the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, it did not give the same right to women of color, and there indeed were women of color who took part in the movement. It is not lost on the actors that to this day, voting rights continues to be an issue in this country.
“I think the fight continues, I think it’s never over,” said Colella. “As with any journey, there are some steps back and I think that helps to reignite more passion, more courageousness, more people to step forward and start the fight for what is right, so the work is to be continued.”
Suffs is currently in previews at the Public Theater. Opening night is scheduled for April 6. It runs through May 1.