'Suffs' review — Broadway musical brings suffrage to the stage

Read our review of Suffs on Broadway, a new musical by Shaina Taub about the pioneers of the women's suffrage movement playing at the Music Box Theatre.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Suffs, now reworked for Broadway after a 2022 run at The Public Theater, features a cast full of newcomers all playing fictionalized versions of historical figures. The musical about the political infighting — between genders, generations, and races — on the long road to American women’s suffrage has memorable music, star-making performances, and an inspiring message with moments that tug at the heartstrings.

It also relies strictly on the work of composer, librettist, and star Shaina Taub, who plays suffragist Alice Paul. Occasionally, this choice leads to mischaracterizations that change the story — Paul’s racism against Black women, for example, was not an awkward byproduct of her obliviousness, but an ingrained view that reared its head throughout her career. Taub writes and plays Paul like a nervous, bookish Leslie Knope when by all accounts, the suffragist was a brazen militant. The Suffs did not wonder how to “do what’s never been done,” a repeated refrain goes – they trained with hardcore British activists and brought their tactics back home.

Perhaps this makes the comparisons between Suffs and Hamilton, another product of the Public, even more suitable. A musical theme that pays homage to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work runs through the first act. And not only does Suffs feature its creator as a protagonist who puts work ahead of their personal life, but it forgoes accuracy in favor of a fun time.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as a tool for civic education – which the show seems to market itself as – it’s simplistic. Leigh Silverman’s production is beautiful, but beauty is skin-deep.

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Suffs summary

Suffs follows suffragist Alice Paul (Taub) as she joins forces with Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association for the right to vote. However, Paul’s desire for direct action clashes with the stoic Catt, who wants to keep women’s virtue at the center of the suffrage campaign to win over President Woodrow Wilson (a hilarious Grace McLean).

Paul recruits other young suffragists like Inez Milholland (Hannah Cruz), the precocious Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi), socialist Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck), and longtime friend Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino). They also debate partnering with Black suffragists (including the terrific Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells) but fear alienating white Southern women. Their ultimate break with Catt and NAWSA’s messaging leads them to form a new campaign for the vote: the National Woman’s Party.

What to expect at Suffs

Suffs discusses racist and misogynistic violence, including lynching and domestic assault. The show also provides details of the torture of political prisoners after Paul and others embarked on a hunger strike and the Wilson administration approved their force-feeding. However, Silverman does not graphically depict these events, instead relying on Mayte Natalio’s choreography to convey the terror.

Suffs also features a pyrotechnic sequence.

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What audiences are saying about Suffs

Suffs has a rating of 93 on Show-Score, marking it an "audience acclaimed" show as many users call it a must-see production.

  • Show-Score user Rita 9 calls Suffs “intelligent, ambitious, entertaining, and clever,” giving it a score of 100.
  • "Completely unexpectedly, SUFFS is the first show of the season where I left thinking 'that could win Best Musical.'" - David Gordon of TheaterMania via X
  • "Don't see it if you didn't like how direct and rudimentary the feminist messages in 'Barbie' were." - Show-Score user M 1286
  • "Suffs will be compared to other historical musicals rooted in reality and altered for dramatic flair, of course. But this is an event: Shaina Taub’s writing, vision, and leading role as Alice Paul are frightfully good and the energy at The Music Box Theatre is electrifying: you’ll want to be there." - Show-Score user GirlFriday

Read more audience reviews of Suffs on Show-Score.

Who should see Suffs

  • Though Taub may tire of the comparison, fans of Hamilton will surely enjoy Suffs.
  • If you’ve watched the movies Iron Jawed Angels (about American women’s suffrage) or Suffragette (about British women’s suffrage), Suffs makes an excellent companion piece.
  • Fans of Taub’s previous musical works, including her Shakespeare adaptations seen at Shakespeare in the Park, will appreciate her latest work.

Learn more about Suffs on Broadway

Despite some structural issues and meandering musical numbers, Suffs is a well-crafted piece that ends on a note of empowerment and marches a historical story into the present.

Learn more and get Suffs tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Suffs is at the Music Box Theatre.

Additional Suffs content

Photo credit: Suffs on Broadway. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

Originally published on

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