See these Broadway shows with history-making women in charge
As directors, writers, and choreographers, women are behind many hit Broadway musicals.
The women of Broadway are consistently breaking barriers and leading the next generation of dramatic creators. From taking on dual work as both director and choreographer to winning a Pulitzer Prize two times, these women are redefining the way we work in theatre spaces and the art we consume.
You might not always know it because they’re not on stage, but there are iconic women behind some of the most famous elements of beloved Broadway shows, from the puppetry of The Lion King to the stylized jazz dancing of Chicago. Here is a list of trailblazing women who are forging their own paths and opening the doors for the women who will surely follow.
Julie Taymor: The Lion King
Sometimes directors will also write or choreograph their own shows, but they rarely design them. But Julie Taymor did so and made history. She is the director and costume designer of The Lion King, one of Broadway’s longest-running musicals of all time. In 1998, Taymor made history when she won the Tony Award for Best Director for The Lion King, making her the first woman to do so. She also won the Best Costume Design prize for creating the musical’s wildlife-inspired outfits and life-size puppetry that The Lion King on Broadway is beloved for.
Over the course of her career, she has won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Variety Program or a Special for Oedipus Rex and has been nominated for an Oscar for Original Song, for “Burn It Blue” from her film Frida.
Ann Reinking: Chicago
Chicago is nearly synonymous with Bob Fosse’s name and choreography, but he’s not the only one behind the moves on stage today. The late Ann Reinking was the Tony Award-winning choreographer of the 1996 revival production of Chicago, a musical she starred in during both its original run and the revival. Reinking replaced Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart when Chicago was first produced in 1977, and she originated the role in 1996. Since Fosse had died by the time the revival began, there was no better person to choreograph it perfectly in his style.
Reinking also dabbled in film, playing a character based on herself in Fosse’s 1979 autobiographical film, All That Jazz. About a decade ahead of the Chicago revival, Reinking performed in Sweet Charity before acting in more film, most notably as the billionaire Oliver Warbucks’s secretary, Grace Farrell, in the 1982 movie version of the hit musical Annie. She did it all!
Lucy Moss: Six
Lucy Moss, the co-writer and co-director of Six, made history with her very first Broadway musical. At age 26, Moss became the youngest female Broadway director in history, breaking the 42-year long record of Elizabeth Swados, who directed Runaways at age 27 in 1978. Moss is just getting started: On the heels of her hit female-led musical, she’s gearing up to direct a production of Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London this summer.
Tina Turner: Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Tina Turner didn’t exactly create the bio-musical based on her life; Pulitzer Prize-winning bookwriter Katori Hall and award-winning director Phyllida Lloyd have that distinction. But we wouldn’t have Tina: The Tina Turner Musical without Turner’s iconic music catalogue, or without her input. Turner was a creative consultant on Tina, so she gave her input on every character portrayal, staging, and fast-footed dance move to make sure it was as true as possible to her experience. So when you see this rousing rock musical, you’ll know that you’re getting as close to the real Tina Turner as you can get.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention everything in Turner’s pre-Broadway career that made her such a trailblazing artist. She’s one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. She’s a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. These are just a few of the things that make Turner such a beacon for female rock musicians, especially Black ones, for generations to come.
Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin: Hadestown
A female dream team like Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell is the stuff of legend, especially now that the mythology-inspired musical Hadestown has won eight Tony Awards. Anaïs Mitchell’s hustle is notable in itself: she spent over 10 years working on Hadestown, first as a concept album and then as a full-fledged musical, all while furthering her folk music career and continually releasing new music while quietly working on Hadestown in the background. It’s not often that folk music takes center stage on Broadway, but thanks to Mitchell, it’s an integral part of a Broadway favorite that countless audiences have come to hear.
Besides being the Tony-winning director of Hadestown, Rachel Chavkin is best known as the artistic director of The TEAM, a daring theatre company whose shows mix history and mythology with stories about contemporary American life. No wonder Hadestown was the perfect project for her! Her work with The TEAM is continually trailblazing, pushing boundaries of choreography, staging, storytelling, and more.
Lynn Nottage: MJ The Musical
MJ the Musical book writer and Intimate Apparel playwright Lynn Nottage achieved a unique distinction in 2021: for a brief time, she had a musical (MJ), a play (Clyde’s), and an opera (an Intimate Apparel adaptation) she wrote all on the New York stage at the same time. The achievement she’s best known for, though, is being the first and only woman to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. She received the award in 2017 for Sweat, her play about dissatisfaction, anger, and resentment among the working class, and in 2009 for Ruined, her play about the plight of women in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nottage is among an elite group of multiple Pulitzer-winning American playwrights that includes August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, Robert E. Sherwood, and Thornton Wilder. There are no women on that list besides Nottage — yet. Hopefully she is the first in a long line of multi-Pulitzer-winning women.