The highly anticipated Broadway show, POTUS, is not about him, even though the full title is: POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. The focus is on the women in the White House. The wildly popular Six, tells the stories of the half dozen exes of Henry VIII. The inventive and powerful SUFFS, now at the Public, is about the19th amendment, featuring only women. (Including one playing Woodrow Wilson.) Selling out every preview on Broadway is that funny girl, back after some 60 years.
Yes, the stages of New York are filled with an astounding number of productions by and about women. “The current scene is encouraging, but honestly, it’s never enough. The more women we have writing, composing, directing and designing for the theatre, the more vibrant the landscape will be,” says the legendary producer Daryl Roth, who is bringing us the upcoming Between the Lines, about a young woman empowered to tell her own story.
Since women make up the majority of most live theatre audiences, this plethora of female-centric stories makes sense. It also helps to have producers like Roth, and Dale Franzen, Tony-winner for Hadestown. Franzen is now involved with For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf, in previews on Broadway. “With Hadestown, I didn’t think twice about partnering with another woman. I am drawn to untold stories about women and there are so many historical, and also fictional, ones that need telling,” says Franzen.
Stories That Resonate
Those stories resonate, sometimes accidentally. Michelle Kholos Brooks is the playwright behind Hitler’s Tasters, about young women who were honored to risk their lives to ensure the Fuhrer’s. “Who knew the world would be watching another autocrat at this time?” she says. “More important, there is not a woman in the world who has not felt the fear brought on by an unhinged male with power.”
I am drawn to untold stories about women and there are so many that need telling.
Americano! was written by former New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos, making her first foray in theatre. “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.”
The list goes on, and these are shows about things that matter. Coming soon 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 back on Broadway. Little Girl Blue (about civil rights activist and singer Nina Simone), Oratorio For Living Things, (composed by Heather Christian, about time and space in these quarantining years) Help, from Claudia Rankine, and Confederates, by Dominique Morisseau, the latter two dealing with white male privilege.
POTUS comes from the new playwright, Selina Fillinger, working alongside veteran and Tony-winning director Susan Stroman. “The setting is simply a framing device for a larger thematic discussion,” says Fillinger. “For years we’ve had this endless news cycle of men abusing their power, and I’m always fascinated by the women orbiting them.” The show, which stars Vanessa Williams, Rachel Dratch, and Julie White, is described as a farce.
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 deals with the women in Shakespeare’s life. At the Wedding, by Bryna Turner, is a hilarious and perceptive 70-minute piece at Lincoln Center.
Women can be our own worst enemies when we restrain ourselves from trying new things.
There are not many laughs in SUFFS, about the diverse group of women who fought for the vote. The politically themed show with a colorblind cast, created by Shaina Taub, is performing in the same theater where Hamilton was born. I predict it too will move on to Broadway and perhaps Pulitzer Prize fame.
For women of color, of course, telling those stories is crucial. Stacey Sargeant, one of seven (colors of the rainbow) performers in For Colored Girl, says, “We need to know that we matter. 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.”
And let’s not forget the successful productions continuing on the Broadway stages: Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, 21 years and still roaring; Company, the revival that has switched its commitment-phobe lead to a female; Wicked, about those witches from Oz, and Tina, about the incomparable Ms. Turner. Even Chicago is still on Broadway, focusing on those deliciously devious broads.
Michele Willens’ “Stage Right..or Not” airs weekly on the NPR affiliate, robinhoodradio.