In 'Suffs,' Shaina Taub Fights For Women's Rights. On Broadway, She's Smashing Barriers.

Even before she began writing the musical “Suffs,” Shaina Taub wanted to create a project that would stand as a testament to women’s empowerment.

The New York actor and composer was at work on a gender-swapped adaptation of the Robin Hood legend in 2014 when she received a copy of Doris Stevens’ “Jailed for Freedom.” Published in 1920, the book is a first-person account of the women’s suffrage movement and the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which recognized women’s right to vote.

It was then, Taub said, that the seed for “Suffs” was planted.

“I’d been searching for a story about a group of girls working together, taking on a system,” she told HuffPost in an interview. “This was exactly what I’d been looking for.”

Actor and composer Shaina Taub portrays Alice Paul in
Actor and composer Shaina Taub portrays Alice Paul in "Suffs," now on Broadway. Joan Marcus

“Suffs,” now playing at New York’s Music Box Theatre, makes Taub the second woman in history and the first in over 50 years to write the book, music and lyrics for a Broadway musical in which she also stars. (The first was Micki Grant, who in 1972 starred in her musical “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.”)

Taub portrays suffragist Alice Paul, who finds herself at odds with an establishment activist, Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella), despite their shared mission of convincing the U.S. government to allow women to vote.

Paul recruits a ragtag team of young suffragists, including Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino), Inez Milholland (Hannah Cruz), Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi) and Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck), to stage a march on Washington amid Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration with the aim of pressuring him to support a federal amendment for suffrage.

After an off-Broadway run in 2022, “Suffs” opened on Broadway in April to mostly positive reviews. By then, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai had signed on as producers.

Actors Tsilala Brock and Grace McLean play Dudley Malone and President Woodrow Wilson in
Actors Tsilala Brock and Grace McLean play Dudley Malone and President Woodrow Wilson in "Suffs." Joan Marcus

Later this month, many members of the musical’s cast — composed entirely of female and nonbinary actors — are set to perform at the 2024 Tony Awards, where the show is nominated for six awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. On Thursday, the “Suffs” cast recording was released digitally on Atlantic Records and captures all 36 of the musical’s songs ― including the comedic “Ladies,” performed by actor Grace McLean as Wilson, and the rousing “Keep Marching” ― in pristine quality.

As far as musicalized depictions of U.S. history go, “Suffs” has been compared by some critics to “Hamilton.” Both musicals premiered off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theater, and like “Suffs,” “Hamilton” also starred its composer and book writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, in a principal role.

“My hope was to model being a full multihyphenate for girls, which I feel is an unquestioned avenue for male creatives,” Taub said, regarding the Miranda comparisons. “It was exciting for me to do what I love, which is perform in something I’ve created, and show to the many girls and kids in the audience that, yeah, you can do this, too.”

Producer Hillary Clinton and Taub are photographed on the opening night of
Producer Hillary Clinton and Taub are photographed on the opening night of "Suffs." Bruce Glikas via Getty Images

As for how “Suffs” will be received over the long term in America’s divisive political climate, she added, “It’s rough to think about the foreboding nature of the next five months, but I hope that hearing about the history of activism, and its victories and failures, in this country can give people some energy in this moment.”

Taub’s next project also grapples with women’s empowerment, albeit in a more lighthearted way. She collaborated with Elton John on a musical adaptation of “The Devil Wears Prada,” which is set to open this fall in London with Vanessa Williams starring as mercurial fashion editor Miranda Priestly.

“It’s been interesting working with such a beloved piece of pop culture, because you want to give people what they love and also something new,” Taub said. “What’s great in a musical is that you can really go into the life of a character. In a movie, it’s more about a close-up on their face.”

Working with John, she added, has been a “surreal” experience.

“[At first] I was like, ‘How am I ever going to walk into a studio with a rock legend, a childhood hero of mine, and not lose my mind or faint?’” she recalled. “But he gave me a big hug and just treated me like a colleague, despite our differences in age, experience and celebrity. He has such a love for songwriting and making music, so we had a kinship.”

Jenn Colella, center, is pictured with the
Jenn Colella, center, is pictured with the "Suffs" ensemble. Joan Marcus