From 'Suffs' to 'Hell's Kitchen,' the Public Theater champions Broadway hits

The celebrated Off-Broadway institution, known as the launchpad for musicals like Hamilton and A Chorus Line, is doubly represented on Broadway this spring.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Hamilton isn’t the only place to find a high-stakes duel on Broadway. Suffs and Hell's Kitchen, two hotly anticipated spring musicals, will be up for various Broadway awards this season — and they’ll share a special bond while they’re at it.

Both shows were born on the same stage at the downtown Off-Broadway institution The Public Theater. They’re singing siblings – and poised to be Tony Awards competitors in June. Sibling revelry turns to sibling rivalry!

Suffs, about lesser-known figures of the women's suffrage movement, premiered there in April 2022 and is now in Broadway performances at the Music Box Theatre. Hell’s Kitchen, loosely based on the life of pop superstar Alicia Keys and featuring her music, debuted there in October 2023 and is now at the Shubert Theatre.

The Public Theater isn’t credited as producer of either transfer, but it still has bragging rights as a key part of both shows’ creative DNA — and as a continually great place to see shows off Broadway before their popularity grows.

“I think we’re fairly well represented on Broadway,” said Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis with a chuckle. “We’ve also got that little Hamilton thing bopping along at the Richard Rodgers [Theatre].” The Public is a producer and the original home of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop megahit Hamilton, about the title Founding Father.

Since the Public was founded 70 years ago by Joseph Papp as the Shakespeare Workshop, the company has kept Broadway bopping with a steady stream of plays and musicals. Close to 60 total shows have moved to Broadway after premiering at the Public: others include Hair, A Chorus Line, Fun Home, The Normal Heart, Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk.

These shows reflect diverse voices and experiences in American society and left a significant impact on the cultural landscape, reflecting the Public's dedication to “artistic excellence and social relevance and representation,” said Eustis.

As an incubator dedicated to nurturing diverse new and emerging talent, it fires on all cylinders. “We pride ourselves on being able to develop musicals that aren't trying to copy any other musical,” said Eustis. He cited the Imelda Marcos bio-musical Here Lies Love as an example; the show premiered at the Public in 2013 and is also up for 2024 Tonys after running on Broadway last fall. “Over time, the mission hasn’t actually changed.”

Eustis points to Suffs creator Shaina Taub as a prime example of the Public's mission in practice. “We’ve been with her since the beginning of her career,” he said. As an artist in residence at the downtown cultural hub, Taub musicalized Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It, which were both presented at the Delacorte Theater.

Suffs is Shaina’s first original show,” he said, adding that she wrote the book and songs and stars as suffragist Alice Paul. “Suffs is extraordinarily relevant in showing how political activism can change the world in ways that are incredibly unexpected.

“It seems inevitable that women would get the vote,” he continued, but as the musical looks back, it shows “that it wasn’t inevitable at all.”

Theatre about political and social issues can also bring together individuals who might not otherwise have much in common. Consider: Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai make up half of the all-women producing team.

“Having the Public as our partner on Suffs was invaluable — we learned so much from our initial run there in 2022," said Jill Furman, the lead producer of Suffs on Broadway. "The institution has a well-deserved reputation for supporting original work of all kinds, and its involvement helped launch us on our path to Broadway."

On Hell’s Kitchen and its 16-time Grammy winning creator, Eustis said, “Alicia didn’t need any help from us." Keys’s production company, AKW, is the show’s Broadway producer. Her show features a coming-of-age narrative told through hits like “Girl on Fire,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Empire State of Mind,” and new songs for the show.

“She’s telling a story about a girl growing up with a single mother in subsidized housing in New York City who discovers herself and her independence,” said Eustis. “There’s a million girls like this in New York City right now.”

Suffs and Hell’s Kitchen now simultaneously vie for audiences as well as awards. “It’s not an ideal scenario, because I think both of them deserve a Tony for Best Musical,” said Eustis. “They’re opening in a way that guarantees that one of them won't win.”

“But both shows were ready to go,” he added. “I seriously hope whatever happens with the Tonys is that both of them have the success and the recognition they deserve.”

Get Suffs tickets now.

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Get Hell's Kitchen tickets now.

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Get tickets to shows at The Public Theater now.

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Discover more spring preview content on New York Theatre Guide and learn about all the Broadway shows this season.

Photo credit: Hell's Kitchen and Suffs at The Public Theater. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

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