REVIEW: ‘Suffs’ is an Affecting Look at Women’s Battle for Rights

Jenn Colella as Carrie Chapman Catt and “Suffs” Company. | Photo by Joan Marcus

BY MICHAEL MUSTO | If you think the idea of suffragists bursting into song is absurd, you’re forgetting Mary Poppins. (“We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats/And dauntless crusaders for women’s votes.”) Well, now, they’re crusading for Tony award votes with the ambitious musical Suffs, based on the American women’s suffrage movement, with a book and score by star Shaina Taub.

Having premiered at the Public Theater in 2022, Suffs is a winner, with a wonderful mixture of earnest storytelling, humor, and heart. Any fear that there’s no need for a story starting in 1913—not to mention one with an outcome that’s a “duh” when you enter—is shattered by the fact that women are still desperately fighting for their rights, particularly in the wake of SCOTUS’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Sadly, the protesting and screaming that’s essential to the narrative of Suffs seems very up to the moment and more topical than ever.

Tsilala Brock and Grace McLean as Dudley Malone and President Woodrow Wilson. | Photo by Joan Marcus

It’s also worth noting that achieving the women’s right to vote was far from straightforward. The musical—which lists Hillary Rodham Clinton as a producer— interestingly reveals the divisions within the suffrage movement, starting with National American Woman Suffrage Association head Carrie Chapman Catt (an excellent Jenn Colella) singing Let Mother Vote, wanting to politely work within the system to advance the issue while not being too offensive about it. (“We’ll still be here to hold you close and tuck you in at night.”) Along comes fiery activist Alice Paul (a determined Taub), who has a different approach, anxious to organize, demand, and topple everything in sight in order to reach the intended goal. Alice handpicks a woman named Inez Milholland (a persuasive Hannah Cruz) as the face of the movement because she’s sexy and charismatic, not to mention fearless enough to demand she ride a horse to lead the big protest march down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells. | Photo by Joan Marcus

But there are challenges—the suffs can’t initially get the support of condescending President Woodrow Wilson (played by Grace McLean. As with the 2022 all-female revival of the revolutionary musical 1776, women take on the male roles too). They also get guff from black women (like the fabulous Nikki M. James as journalist Ida B. Wells) who are irked by the fact that the suffs movement is basically being carried out by whites fighting for whites.

As directed by Leigh Silverman, Suffs moves effortlessly through a lot of historical happenings, taking us past the feuds, the jailings, and the ultimate triumph of the 19th Amendment approval without belaboring any fine points. With lots of sung-through encounters—and great period costumes by Tony winner Paul Tazewell (Hamilton)—the show ably shines a light on the frustration and perseverance that intermingled as women strove for the right to have their say. Some of the most moving sequences involve the characters musically announcing their desire to have their activism known to future players. (“I want my great granddaughter to know I was here.”) But there’s hilarity too. In the raucous number G.A.B., the activists sing about their joy at being “Great American Bitches,” wearing easily threatened men’s condemnation of them as a badge of honor.

The show—which has been fine-tuned since its off-Broadway run—is a triumph for Taub, who previously composed and starred in three adaptations of Shakespeare plays for the Public Theater and wrote the lyrics for the Devil Wears Prada musical. Many years after the voting victory, when Alice (Taub) realizes that she may have become the old fogey Catt once was, the show adds a wry self-awareness to the history.

So I vote that everyone should see Suffs. Soldiers in petticoats have never been such great American bitches.

At the Music Box Theatre (239 W. 45th St.). For tickets ($69-$299), click here. To purchase tickets by phone, call Telecharge at 212-239-6200. For groups of 10 or more call Broadway Inbound at 866-302-0995 or click here to book tickets online. April 25: ERA Night with special post-show panel (Guests TBA). Suffs is recommended for ages 10 and up. Runtime: Approximately 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission.

Jenn Colella as Carrie Chapman Catt and Shaina Taub as Alice Paul. | Photo by Joan Marcus


Photo of Michael Musto by Andrew Werner.


Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work appears on this website as well as and, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via @michaelmusto.



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