Off-Broadway’s “Suffs” offers a rich, fun and timely musical history lesson in women’s rights

Playing a Long Engagement Off-Broadway world premiering at the Public Theater, the ambitious sung musical enoughwith a book, music and lyrics by Shaina Taub, who also leads a large nineteen-year-old all-female cast, presents a research-rich, entertaining and engaging history lesson on the complicated background of the suffragist movement and the women who fought the long battle for the right to vote, with a call for equal rights that still resonates today.

Ally Bonino, Phillipa Soo, Shaina Taub, Hannah Cruz and Nadia Dandashi. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by Leigh Silverman, the informative and energetic tale moves from 1913, with the planning of the procession for women’s suffrage in Washington, D.C., held the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, to the ratification of the 19and Amendment in 1920, to the resurgence of the post-modern women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and beyond. And the candid production considers not only the sisterhood and accomplishments of the largely unrecognized real-life pioneers, but also the struggles, conflicts, and divides — gender-based, generational, and racial — they faced from both outside and from inside, not always strategically. like-minded coalition.

At the center of it all, and played with tireless strength and determination by Taub, is the relentless activist Alice Paul (1885-1977), who staged public protests, endured police brutality and imprisonment, and s clashed with other leaders. of the case. Most notable of these was Carrie Chapman Catt, Susan B. Anthony’s chosen successor in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and a representative of the more conciliatory old guard (an “Old Fogey”), portrayed with determination by Jenn Colella and sung in her ever-remarkable voice; and civil rights leader, writer, speaker and co-founder of the NAACP Ida B. Wells, who was born into slavery, became one of the leading advocates for the black and female population and, in a very touching performance by Nikki M. James, refused to separate the two, despite concerns expressed by her cohorts.

Nikki M. James. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In the roles of Paul’s closest associates are the ever-convincing Ally Bonino as Lucy Burns, Alice’s lifelong friend and co-founder of the National Woman’s Party; Hannah Cruz as fiery Polish-American labor organizer and working-class supporter Ruza Wenclawska (who would become a stage actress in New York, appearing in the 1924 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill Desire under the elms); Nadia Dandashi as young committed force of feminism Doris Stevens, hired by NAWSA as secretary, organizer and columnist; and the sensational Phillipa Soo as the extravagant, wealthy, beautiful, and connected Inez Milholland – a prominent lawyer and lecturer, who led the DC Woman Suffrage Procession with her dramatic visual rhetoric, riding a white horse and dressed in a long flowing dress and crown (a breathtaking scene that manifests the majesty of women).

Phillipa Soo and company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Other featured roles (with both male and female roles performed and sung by the women’s company) include Grace McLean’s heartbreaking satirical send-off of the unsupportive President; Tsilala Brock as the simpatico Dudley Malone, who served as Assistant Secretary of State in the Wilson Cabinet but resigned his position after converting to the suffragist cause and eventually marrying Stevens; and Aisha de Haas as multi-millionaire socialite Alva Belmont, a member who has generously given the Suffs her active and financial support.

Jenna Bainbridge, Amina Faye, Cassondra James, Jaygee Macapugay, Susan Oliveras, Mia Pak, Liz Pearce, J. Riley Jr. and Ada Westfall complete this formidable ensemble. All contribute effectively with characterizations and lively themes, harmonies and movement (with musical direction and supervision by Andrea Grody, orchestrations by Mike Brun and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly). Along with the rest of the cast, they appear individually and in group scenes as smirking men and as women united against oppression.

The performances are supported by a lavish array of men’s and women’s period costumes by Toni-Leslie James, as well as hair, wigs, mustaches and make-up by Matthew Armentrout. The imposing architectural ensemble of monumental columns, staircases and doors by Mimi Lien is enhanced with colorful lighting by Natasha Katz, sound by Sun Hee Kil and sound effects by Daniel Kluger to suit the changing moods of history.

Unfortunately, with the Supreme Court’s current move to overturn Roe v Wade, this production couldn’t be more urgent or timely than it is now. But the mood of enough is not sad; it’s passionate, fun, uplifting and empowering, delivering the message that the job will never be done and that future generations must carry on the ongoing feminist struggle.

Duration: approximately 2h45, intermission included.

enough runs through Sunday, May 29, 2022 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $125, plus fees), go in line. Everyone must present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times inside.

Clyde P. Johnson