Celebrate International Women’s Day at the theatre with these Broadway and West End shows featuring strong female leads
From Anne Boleyn and Tina Turner to Elphaba and Bobbie, strong women continue to shape the stories of the female experience on stage. Gone are the days when women were the supporting characters in their own narratives; they’re now the driving forces and change-makers in some of the biggest musicals on Broadway and the West End. The feminine experience is not monolithic, as evidenced by the stories of diverse figures from the six wives of Henry VIII to the brave witches of Oz. Together, they offer a nuanced, full scope of what it means to be a woman.
When women get to lead their own stories on stage, theatre changes for the better. Here are just a few contemporary musicals you can see on Broadway and in the West End driven by strong female characters. The women in these shows have overcome adversity with strength, love, and determination, and they deepen how womanhood is depicted and performed on stage.
Six features a strong all-female cast. The leading ladies of this musical — Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr — are King Henry VIII’s six wives, who get to rewrite their stories of their marriages to the controversial royal figure.
Six creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss rewrote the one-dimensional stories documented in history books to give the lives of these women color and fulfillment. So often, people value cis-women married to men based on their husband’s status. In this case, these six wives receive a moment to tell their own stories of what it was like to be married to a man who sat on the highest throne in England, plus all their non-Henry-related achievements.
In the latest revival of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Company, being alive (and unmarried) has a whole new meaning for a reimagined Bobbie. The story of a single 35-year-old stuck in a group of married friends now features a woman in the lead.
By making this change, the role of Bobbie becomes more modern, especially as women are taking longer to get married and have children. This Bobbie is an unmarried woman with a great career, a nice apartment, and lots of friends, but she feels like time is moving against her as she hasn’t settled down. This version become easily relatable to the millennial woman in the same predicament.
Wicked is so popular because the musical re-examines the origins of an underdeveloped relationship between the two prominent witches in The Wizard of Oz: The Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good. What was written as conflict without resolve is reworked with intention in this prequel (and part sequel) production.
In Wicked, Elphaba (later the Wicked Witch) and Glinda work together as a team, showcasing female sisterhood and reconciliation. The duo move from disgruntled roommates to unlikely best friends. These characters offer audiences a refreshing take on female friendship, which is the true love story of this celebrated musical.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
The only thing better than an onstage female powerhouse is a real-life female powerhouse, and you get both at Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. True to its name, this show is all Tina’s through and through. Her character is in practically every scene, and you won’t go five minutes without hearing one of the rock icon’s many chart-topping hits or watching her iconic dance moves.
In Turner’s dramatized biography, audiences see the story of a woman who faced abuse, discrimination, and failure, but persevered and reinvented herself as an independent music legend. Seeing Tina live is even better when you know that the real Turner was a creative consultant, so she approved every detail of her inspiring life story for the stage.
The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is not the end in & Juliet, a new jukebox musical blowing audiences away in the West End. In this production, Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, doesn’t die for a man. Instead, she gets the chance to continue her story of self-discovery after her failed relationship with Romeo.
Juliet travels to Paris to create her own narrative and lead her own journey — with the help of her girlfriends — to rediscover who she is apart from Romeo, even if that comes with a price. The score also features songs made famous by some truly powerhouse divas like Britney Spears, Kesha, Pink, and more.
Frozen the Musical
This inspiring tale of sisterhood and the power of familial love offers a refreshing break from the overdone boy-meets-girl plot that occupies so many musicals. In this Disney show, based on the award-winning animated film, Elsa and Anna are torn apart by a terrible secret, but when their kingdom is in trouble, Anna goes on a quest to reunite with her sister and save their home.
Love is an open door at this uplifting show, and you’ll be holding the women in your life closer after letting it go at this empowering show.