“Suffs” Creator Shaina Taub Recalls Moment She Knew Tony-Nominee Nikki M. James Had to Be in the Musical (Exclusive)

"She really became a muse for me," Taub tells PEOPLE of fellow 'Suffs' star Nikki M. James

<p>Jenny Anderson/Getty</p>

Jenny Anderson/Getty

Shaina Taub is proud of her Tony-nominated Suffs costar Nikki M. James.

The actress-musician, 35, knew in the early stages of writing the women's suffrage–focused Broadway musical that James, 43, would be a perfect fit for the role of Ida B. Wells.

“From my earliest research, I knew that Ida B. Wells had to be an important part of this musical,” Taub tells PEOPLE. “She is such a strong example of the power of standing in your truth and not making a compromise when you know that you're doing the right thing.”

It didn’t take long for Taub to recognize who would be the right person to take on the role.

“From the earliest moments when I knew that Ida B. Wells had to be in the musical, I knew that Nikki M. James had to be in the musical,” Taub explains.

Related: Activist Ida B. Wells Gets Pulitzer Prize 137 Years After Refusing to Exit 'Whites Only' Train

<p>Joan Marcus</p>

Joan Marcus

She says, “As I was starting to write in 2016, we were putting on a musical adaptation I did of Twelfth Night at Shakespearean Park in New York, and Nikki was starring as Viola. I'd been a fan of her from afar for years but then we finally met, and to have her sing my music at that early stage when I was really just starting to find my voice as a writer, she really became a muse for me.”

Referring to James as “the most astonishing actor [she’s ever] worked with” — “I mean, her facility as an actor, specifically through song, it's just such a unique gift, how much she can do with just a note,” she says — Taub asked her to come on board for Suffs’ earliest reading.

“I knew right away that there was a kinship with her and Ida and the fierceness and the vulnerability and the range that she has,” Taub, who plays Alice Paul in the musical, says of casting James.

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<p>Joan Marcus</p>

Joan Marcus

Related: 2024 Tony Awards: Sarah Paulson, Jeremy Strong, Rachel McAdams and More Nab Nominations — See the Full List

Among Suffs’s six Tony nominations, including best musical, James is nominated for best featured actress in a musical, an accolade Taub says is well-deserved.

“I'm so thrilled she's being recognized in this major way because she so majorly deserves it,” Taub says. “Just to feel the impact she has on an audience every night, because I'm there, I'm onstage with her, is just staggering.”

Taub says her play having made it to Broadway, let alone being nominated for six Tony Awards, is “beyond her wildest dreams.”

“I grew up as a theater kid who would kind of watch the Tonys with stars in my eyes. It is more than I could have ever imagined.”

She credits many for the success of the musical, but especially James: “Nikki's collaboration over these many years — she has stuck with us through thick and thin, through ups and downs — and through her portrayal and her collaboration, I think, has challenged the work to become better and deeper and mature."

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