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In ‘Suffs,’ relationships invigorate a musical about a social movement

Tony Award nominees Shaina Taub, Leigh Silverman and Jill Furman break down how the new musical merges history and heart.

(L-R) Nadia Dandashi as Doris Stevens, Shaina Taub as Alice Paul, Kim Blanck as Ruza Wenclawska, Ally Bonino as Lucy Burns and Hannah Cruz as Inez Milholland in “Suffs” on Broadway, 2024 (Credit: Joan Marcus)

The musical “Suffs” gets its name from a real-life coalition of women — the suffragists — who fought for their right to vote in the United States during the early 20th century. But the show gets its substance from a smaller group of women — beloved friends — who relied on one another, gave each other voice and fought side by sider for the right to exist as full people. “Suffs” certainly offers a history lesson about the women’s suffrage movement that was skipped over by too many classes, but at the root of the musical is a story of friendship. As the show’s Tony Award-nominated director Leigh Silverman noted, “[We] foreground relationships and let what happened in the history come out through those relationships.”

“Suffs” premiered at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater in March of 2022. But Silverman and Tony-nominated composer-lyricist and book writer Shaina Taub (who also stars as suffragist leader Alice Paul) could feel they’d leaned too far into the history. “We all just nerd out for this story that we never got to learn,” Silverman said. “But the truth is that we’re bigger nerds for musical theater, and we want to make a show that grabs you by the heart and makes you care and feel for these people — and then you get this amazing piece of history along with it.”

“[Shaina] wanted to get back to more of her original impulses of why she started to write the show,” Silverman continued. Taub had been motivated by these individual women and their bond. With the musical’s Broadway mounting, Taub regrounded her writing in “the centrality of friendship to their lives.” 

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