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Review Roundup: SUFFS at The Public Theater

Written by and featuring Shaina Taub, this epic new musical takes an unflinching look at these unsung trailblazers.

Suffs

Read the reviews for the exciting new musical, SUFFS, at The Public Theater.

With book, music, and lyrics by Shaina Taub, music direction and music supervision by Andrea Grody, choreography by Raja Feather Kelly, and direction by Leigh Silverman, Suffs began performances on March 13.

A musical event one hundred years in the making, Suffs brings to life a complicated chapter in the ongoing battle for the right to vote: the American women's suffrage movement. Written by and featuring one of the most exciting new voices in theater, Shaina Taub, this epic new musical takes an unflinching look at these unsung trailblazers. In the years leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, an impassioned group of suffragists-"Suffs" as they called themselves-took to the streets, pioneering protest tactics that transformed the country. They risked their lives as they clashed with the president, the public, and each other.

A thrilling story of brilliant, flawed women working against and across generational, racial, and class divides, Suffs boldly explores the victories and failures of a fight for equality that is still far from over.


Maya Phillips, The New York Times: "Suffs" ends with a passing of the torch from one generation of change-makers to the next, revisiting the latest clash of new politics versus old politics: What was once revolutionary becomes out of date. For all the work this show does to illuminate the successes - and failures - of the women's rights movement, and the constantly evolving nature of our politics, it focuses so much energy on seeming as timely as possible. But, as the suffs learn, movements transform; our government leaders change, as do the demands of the people on the picket line. It's a lesson the musical should take to heart: You can't live in the past, present and future of our nation's politics all at once - at least not without losing your way.

Diep Tran, New York Theatre Guide: In entertainment, there is the assumption that women's stories are small, while men's stories are universal. Just as the suffragists broke down the doors of the patriarchy, Suffs breaks down the doors of musical theatre, showing that a cast and creative team of mostly women can tell a story that is important, powerful, and about all of us. With Taub leading it, the future of musical theatre is female, and it's about time.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: This history reads like pretty dry stuff, but right from that beginning chorus, "Suffs" is anything but. This sung-through musical is rousing entertainment for all of its nearly "three hours straight," and much of the delight comes from seeing how Taub manipulates the material to make it fun.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: The musical evokes the hunger strikes the women undertook when jailed after protesting at the White House. On stage this intense period of time is bizarrely distilled into a jumble of whey-faced misery and balletic fainting. As in Paradise Square on Broadway, which also attempts to embody social movements with song and dance, the musical charts a rambling path before a resonant and moving finale, making this critic wish we had seen more of the relationships between the women on stage evolve throughout the show (mostly, it is just policy debate and disagreements that we witness).

Raven Snook, Time Out New York: Suffs is remarkably easy to follow as it presents its sheroes in all their imperfect glory, exploring the ideological, generational and racial divides that persist to this day in feminist politics. Although the show is nearly three hours long, not every pioneering woman gets her due. The production works hard to spotlight actors of color, but the Black activists Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell-beautifully embodied by Nikki M. James and Cassondra James, respectively-feel sidelined, giving Wells' stirring solo "Wait My Turn" an unfortunate double meaning. Yet there's much to admire and enjoy in Suffs, which may well have a brilliant future ahead of it. Like its protagonists, it's a progressive work in progress.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: Suffs can still use some editing and sculpting-it's impossible for the author to concentrate on refinements when she is onstage giving a herculean performance every night-but that will come in time. (As we learned from that other musical, the author-as-star might seem irreplaceable but many other performers will eventually thrive in the well-written role.) Even now, the present excitement is similar to what you might have experienced on the very same stage at the Public during the premiere productions of A Chorus Line, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, Fun Home, and Hamilton. That's quite a class, and Taub is on the verge of becoming a member.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: With intermission Suffs runs two hour forty minutes. When the stand-alone songs aren't lifting audience spirits, recitative takes over. Given the complex and lengthy tale Taub is obsessively telling, she pours on lots and lots and lots of recitative, thereby risking audience concentration during the extended first-act ending-uh, two or three endings. She compounds the problem during the second act. Director Leigh Silverman takes much of the onus off with her outstanding cast. She and Kelly-with extremely resourceful costumer Toni-Leslie James, lighting designer Natasha Katz and sound designer Sun Hee Kil-continually make compelling dramatic pictures on the unchanging set. The industrious crew mitigates any dangers run by having to place 18 performers on those dignified steps, including one in a wheelchair, Jenna Bainbridge as 19th-amendment-deciding-voter Harry T. Burn.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Credit where it is due: the second act is vastly superior, if only because conflicts play out vividly onstage, rather than through narration or navel-gazing. But by that point in this overlong musical, it's hard to drum up the excitement that should have been there from the beginning. Suffs isn't as miserable an experience as it might read under analysis but, unlike its worthy subject matter and the discussions a stronger throughline could have provoked, it isn't a drum worth beating.

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