BWW BLOG: Girl Power: Five Stand-Out Roles for Stand-Out Women
Jess here. Being a proud feminist, I attended my first women's march here in Oklahoma City last weekend. This event really resonated with me, and it got me thinking about all of the fierce female characters in musical theatre who have enlightened and inspired audiences by bravely sharing their stories of perseverance and triumph from center stage. So, in order to pay homage to some of our favorite ladies, I thought I'd make a list (in no particular order) of my top five stand-out female roles in the world of musical theatre today.
Fanny Brice - FUNNY GIRL:
I could go on for days raving about this one. One of my all-time favorite shows, "Funny Girl," features Fanny Brice; an unbelievably talented young woman in the early 20th Century who finds herself fighting her way to the top due to her "less than beautiful" face and look. This show offers some of the most iconic female power songs ever written, ranging from "Don't Rain on My Parade" to "People." This production (despite not having made a Broadway appearance since its debut with Barbra Streisand in 1964) is still a driving force when it comes to emboldening women to be unafraid of portraying a strong willed, intelligent female character whose role demands both comedic and dramatic elements, rather than solely playing the comic relief. "Funny Girl" is a classic tale of a woman making it without anyone but herself to rely on, and embracing that very important concept is a key component for success, both on-stage and off.
Deloris Van Cartier - SISTER ACT:
After seeing this production at Oklahoma City University this past fall, I was blown away by the fierceness of the character, Deloris Van Cartier. Placing a woman in such a position of dominance is incredibly empowering, and the role's quick-wit requirement shows girls everywhere that women can portray more than just the "ingénue" or the "quirky best friend." Additionally, the immense vocal skill required to sing this character's rep allows the actor to take the ambitious liberty of making Deloris', as well as her own, persona really shine through. What's also cool about this leading lady is that she gives women of color a chance to play something other than a supporting character. It's quite progressive as far as representation goes, and it will continue to give African-American women the chance to be "Fabulous Baby!"
Elle Woods - LEGALLY BLONDE:
The ultimate Broadway bop is none other than "Legally Blonde." Elle Woods, initially a fashion merchandising student, relocates from Malibu, California to Harvard Law School to pursue the man of her dreams. Little does she know that her quest will not only result in the acquisition of her own career in law, but her relentless dedication will prove to everyone that while blondes do have more fun, they can also graduate as a Harvard valedictorian. Just like the two women above, Elle has an incredible repertoire of music in the show, but the really important part of this role (and this production, actually) is the NUMBER OF WOMEN IN THE CAST. There's Elle, Vivienne, Paulette, Edith, and all of the sorority girls, etc. In a business thriving off so many shows that seem to circle around men, "Legally Blonde" lets the ladies take charge.
Trina - FALSETTOS:
On the opposite side of the "Legally Blonde" spectrum, we have "Falsettos." A cult classic, this show is centered on sensitive topics such as mental illness and LGBTQ+ issues. Trina, a recently divorced mother, has quite an interesting presence as she is the only female character in the first act. Her role is emotionally exhausting, and her well-known solo, "I'm Breaking Down," offers the actor an incredible spotlight opportunity to communicate the intricacies that fuel her character's psyche. Trina's sense of doubt in herself as not only a woman, but also as a single mother, gives her character a vulnerability that is delicately balanced with a quiet strength, both of which result in the audience's ability to connect and sympathize with her. Her part is truly fascinating, and marks a milestone in the representation of single parents and independent women everywhere.
Cathy Hiatt - THE LAST FIVE YEARS:
Last but not least, no list would be complete without Cathy Hiatt, the struggling actress and wife of famed writer and cheater, Jamie Wellerstein. I personally believe that this is one of the most emotionally raw female character roles ever to be written (with the exception of Celie from "The Color Purple" because... good god). This part has been played by many amazing women; from Betsy Wolfe to Cynthia Erivo and the soundtrack offers a variety of beautiful songs for ladies to sing. It is an innovative production unlike any other, with a cast of only two, and a plot told in reverse.
Giving women the chance to play a role that allows them to be more than just the damsel in distress should be an easier task than it is. However, slowly but surely, female characters are being developed, and their voices are expanding the wheelhouse of 21st Century women from all walks of life. With newcomers like Natasha from "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," and Beverley Bass from "Come From Away" and Angelica Schuyler from "Hamilton," the future outlook for females in musical theatre looks bright.
In order to spark real change regarding the societal views of women, artists and creatives must organize and rally for the greater good. Continuing to push boundaries by letting the ladies take the spotlight creates possibilities that will make a difference, and could lead to the start of something big...
"Girls looking frazzled and girls looking great, girls in a frenzy to get to a date. Girls like a madhouse and two of them late... And who had to wait?" -Stephen Sondheim