“Witty dialogue, snappy tunes, and imaginative choreography characterize ’19: The Musical.” As joyful and inspirational as it is, however, the show does not sugar-coat the long and arduous battle to secure women’s suffrage in the United States.
Beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and culminating in the ratification of the nineteenth amendment in 1920, Susan B. Anthony (Brenda Parker), Alice Paul (Katie Ganem), Ida B. Wells (Millicent Scarlett), and other suffrage luminaries tell the story—with an unflinching look at the sacrifices, obstacles, and setbacks—of the movement to secure voting rights for half of the American people.
’19: The Musical’ serves as a timely reminder of women’s struggle for full citizenship, a story we cannot afford to forget it.
A racially diverse cast highlights society’s progress since ratification, but the narrative also explores the racial tensions that plagued the movement, and snippets of dialogue frequently allude to the work left to be done to achieve women’s equality. Contemporary terms such as “mansplaining,” used to describe President Woodrow Wilson’s (Brian Lyons-Burke) interaction with the suffragists, give a modern-day spin to a movement that took place long before equal pay, workplace harassment, or the #MeToo movement flickered into society’s consciousness.
With humor and deep sincerity, Brenda Parker (Susan B. Anthony) grabs the audience by the hand and leads them through the tumultuous battle against a world dead-set on silencing women. Millicent Scarlett (Ida B. Wells) graces the stage with her soaring and powerful soprano voice, and Katie Ganem (Alice Paul) embodies the uncompromising determination that drove Paul to withstand multiple arrests, violence, and torture in pursuit of universal suffrage. Maria Ciarrocchi expertly portrays the uptight and ladylike Carrie Chapman Catt who naively insists women can “nice” their way into equality by avoiding tactics that offend those in power.
Costumes (Jennifer Schwed) are simple and direct. Women wear white shirts emblazoned with the word “Suffragist.” Male character’s T-shirts are stamped with the word “Man.” In a particularly inspiring moment, a young girl appears with a T-shirt reading “The Future.” The set is as uncomplicated as the costumes, creating a sacred space in which this vital piece of American history can take center stage.
The show’s composer, arranger, and musical director Charlie Barnett provides the piano accompaniment throughout the evening, nimbly shifting between high-intensity ballads and up-tempo dance numbers.
Written and directed by Washington D.C. area natives Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw, this musical comes at a crucial moment in our country’s history and in the fight to build a more just world for all people. “19: The Musical” serves as a timely reminder of women’s struggle for full citizenship, a story we cannot afford to forget it.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“19: The Musical” ran through November 27 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. For information about the show, click here. For information about future museum events, click here.