From Evita to Tina: Broadway Characters Based on Real Women in History

Musicals have features political figures like Princess Diana and Eva Peron, and legendary performers like Tina Turner, Donna Summer, and Cher.

By: Mar. 06, 2021

In honor of Women's History Month, we're taking a look at some iconic real-life women who have been portrayed on stage in musicals!

Musicals have pulled women from many facets of history, from political figures like Princess Diana and Eva Peron, to legendary performers like Tina Turner, Donna Summer, and Cher.

Check out our list of some of our favorite women from history who have made their mark on the Broadway stage!

Tina Turner (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical)

The real life Tina Turner began performing with musician Ike Turner in the 1950s. They became known as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, achieving acclaim for their live performances and recordings including "Proud Mary," until Tina left in the 1970s.

Turner then launched her solo career, achieving massive success with her 1984 album Private Dancer. She went on to deliver more chart-topping albums and hit singles and was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

On stage, Turner is portrayed by Adrienne Warren, who originated the role in the West End in 2018. The show began previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway on 12 October 2019 and officially opened on 7 November 2019, before being halted due to COVID-19 in March 2020.

Gypsy Rose Lee (Gypsy)

Gypsy Rose Lee, born Rose Louise Hovick, was an American burlesque entertainer and vedette famous for her striptease act. She also was an actress, author, and playwright, and starred in various films.

In 1957, she published her memoir, titled Gypsy: A Memoir, which became the basis of the musical Gypsy. The character of Louise is based on Lee, but the musical centers around Rose, Lee's mother. The character of Mama Rose has gone on to become one of the most iconic in musical theatre, played by Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly, Patti LuPone, and many more.

Carole King (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

Carole King began her career in the 1950s as one of the staff songwriters at the Brill Building and later went on to become a solo artist. She has written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as 61 hits that charted in the UK.

King's success as a performer in her own right did not come until the 1970s, when she sang her own songs, accompanying herself on the piano, in a series of albums and concerts. King has made 25 solo albums, the most successful being Tapestry, which held the record for most weeks at No. 1 by a female artist for more than 20 years.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells King's story. The musical premiered at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, in October 2013, and opened on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in January 2014. In both productions, King was portrayed by Jessie Mueller. Future replacement casts included Chilina Kennedy, Melissa Benoist, and Abby Mueller.

Princess Diana (Diana)

Princess Diana became Lady Diana Spencer after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975. She married the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, on July 29, 1981. They had two sons and later divorced in 1996. Diana died on August 31, 1997, from injuries she sustained in a car crash in Paris. She is remembered as the "People's Princess" because of her widespread popularity and global humanitarian efforts.

Diana the Musical played for nine previews at the Longacre Theatre before Broadway shut down on March 12. The musical is expected to premiere on Netflix some time this year before returning to Broadway. Jeanna de Waal plays the role of the titular princess in the musical.

Beverley Bass (Come From Away)

Captain Beverley Bass is just one character from Come From Away inspired by a real-life person.

Bass was first hired in 1976 by American Airlines as their third female pilot, and became the first female captain of a commercial plane at American Airlines in 1986. Later that year she captained the first all-female crew in the history of commercial jet aviation.

The musical Come From Away opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in 2017, after runs in Toronto, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Bass was portrayed by Jenn Colella in the original Broadway cast, who popularized the song Me and the Sky. Notable others to play the role include Becky Gulsvig and Rachel Tucker.

The Schuyler Sisters (Hamilton)

While some facts introduced in the musical are debated, the Schuyler Sisters really did exist!

Angelica lived in Europe with her British-born husband, John Barker Church, who became a Member of Parliament. She was a prominent member of the social elite everywhere she lived, which included Albany and New York City, as well as Paris and London.

Eliza, of course, was really married to Alexander Hamilton. She is recognized as an early American philanthropist for her work with the Orphan Asylum Society. And yes, she really did establish the first private orphanage in New York City.

Peggy was married to Stephen Van Rensselaer III, a member of one of the richest and most politically influential families in New York. She died before her sisters after falling ill.

The trio is portrayed in the original cast of Hamilton by Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones. Notable others who have played the iconic roles include Montego Glover, Karen Olivo and Mandy Gonzalez (Angelica), as well as Denee Benton and Solea Pfeiffer (Eliza).

Donna Summer (Summer: The Donna Summer Musical)

Donna Summer is known as the "Queen of Disco," best known for some of her hit songs including "Last Dance", Hot Stuff", "On The Radio" and "She Works Hard For The Money." In her 5-decade-long career, Summer racked up fourteen top ten hits, four number one singles, three platinum albums, five Grammy awards and twelve other Grammy nominations.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical made its premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in November 2017 and opened on Broadway in April 2018. The musical portrays the iconic star in three stages of her life, with Ariana DeBose playing "Disco Donna," LaChanze as "Diva Donna", and Storm Lever as "Duckling Donna."

Grace O'Malley (The Pirate Queen)

Grace O'Malley is one of the most famous pirates of all time. From the age of eleven, she forged a career in seafaring and piracy and was considered a fierce leader at sea and a shrewd politician on land. She successfully defended the independence of her territories at a time when much of Ireland fell under the English rule and is still considered today 'the pirate queen of Ireland.'

O'Malley is the subject of the musical The Pirate Queen, which opened on Broadway in 2007 after a pre-Broadway run in Chicago the previous year. Stephanie J. Block played the role of O'Malley.

Cher (The Cher Show)

Cher gained popularity in 1965 as one-half of the folk rock husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher with their song "I Got You Babe." Cher also launched a solo career at the same time, with songs like "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". Additionally, Cher became a television personality on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and appeared in several films such as Silkwood, Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, and Moonstruck.

Her achievements include a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Cannes Film Festival Award, the Billboard Icon Award, and awards from the Kennedy Center Honors and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The Cher Show tells the story of Cher's life, premiering at in Chicago in June 2018, and transferring to Broadway later that year. On stage, Cher was portrayed by three actresses, each representing a different period of time in her life, including Stephanie J. Block (Star), Teal Wicks (Lady), and Micaela Diamond (Baby).

Annie Oakley (Annie Get Your Gun)

Annie Oakley was an American sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. At 15, she won a shooting contest against experienced marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married, and the pair joined Buffalo Bill in 1885. She continued her career until 1901 when she suffered an accident and became an instructor instead.

Annie Get Your Gun is a musical that tells Oakley's story. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1946, with Ethel Merman in the titular role. Other notable actors to take on the role are Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty, Marilu Henner, and Dolores Gray.

Gloria Estefan (On Your Feet!)

Gloria Estefan started her career as the lead singer in the group Miami Latin Boys, which later became known as Miami Sound Machine, before going on to launch a solo career. Her songs like "Conga" and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" topped the charts in the 1980s and 1990s and became pop classics.

She has won three Grammy Awards and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Las Vegas Walk of Fame. In 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has also won an MTV Video Music Award, was honored with the American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement, was named BMI Songwriter of the Year, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

On Your Feet! tells the story of Estefan, and her husband Emilio. The musical had a pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago in the summer of 2015, and opened on Broadway in November. The role of Gloria was played by Ana Villafañe on Broadway.

Eva Peron (Evita)

Eva Peron, otherwise known as Evita, was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. During her husband's first term as president (1946-52), she became a powerful though unofficial political leader, revered by the lower economic classes. Prior to meeting Juan, Eva moved to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career, and performing in various radio parts.

The story of Eva Peron is immortalized in the musical Evita, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Elaine Paige originated the role in the West End in 1978, and Patti LuPone played the part in the original Broadway cast in 1979. The musical has played several subsequent productions in various countries, and was turned into a film, starring Madonna, in 1996.

Fanny Brice (Funny Girl)

Fanny Brice delighted audiences for more than forty years as a singer and comedienne, known notably on the radio for her character "Baby Snooks." Before focusing exclusively on radio work, Brice appeared in burlesque and vaudeville, drama, film, and musical revues, including nine Ziegfeld Follies between 1910 and 1936.

Brice also appeared in a few motion pictures, including My Man (1928), Be Yourself! (1930), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), and Everybody Sing (1938).

Funny Girl, the iconic 1964 musical, tells Brice's story. The original cast features Barbra Streisand as Brice, who then went on to portray her on the West End, as well as in the 1968 film adaptation.

Molly Brown (The Unsinkable Molly Brown)

Margaret Brown, who is now known posthumously as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", was an American socialite and philanthropist. She is known in history for surviving the sinking of the Titanic, and encouraging the crew in Lifeboat No. 6 to return to the debris field to look for survivors. After being rescued, Brown proceeded to organize a survivors' committee with other first-class survivors.

A fictionalized version of Brown's life story was made into a musical, called The Unsinkable Molly Brown, in 1960. The original Broadway production opened in November 1960, and starred Tammy Grimes, who won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Brown. Other notable productions featured Sutton Foster and Beth Malone in the title role.

Maria von Trapp (The Sound of Music)

Maria von Trapp, born Maria Augusta Kutschera, was the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers, who toured the United States before eventually settling in Stowe, Vermont. Maria wrote The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1949 and was the inspiration for the 1956 West German film The Trapp Family.

The film inspired the musical, The Sound of Music, which opened on Broadway in 1959. The original production starred Mary Martin as Maria. Perhaps the most famous version of The Sound of Music, however, is the 1965 film adaptation, which starred Julie Andrews.