– Reviews –

19 the Musical – Review from Metro Theatre Arts

In ’19: The Musical,’ women sing and dance their way to suffrage

To mark the centennial of women’s right to vote, Through the 4th Wall stages a feminist civics lesson as a rousing Broadway-style musical

On the day I was to see 19: The Musical—which is about how the amendment granting women the right to vote came to pass in 1920—our Constitution Denier in Chief made a perfectly timed gaffe. There he was at his Oval Office desk surrounded by women who had come to watch him put his Sharpie to the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act—a bill that would direct Treasury to mint a special one-dollar coin (which had worked out so well for Susan B. Anthony).

Upon signing, a stumped Trump asked in all seriousness: “I’m curious why wasn’t it done a long time ago?”—the meaning of the word centennial apparently out of reach of his brain.  Then, in all self-servingness: “I guess the answer to that is because now I’m president, we get things done.”

19: The Musical has a presidential character nearly as alarming a buffoon: the pompous Woodrow Wilson (Brian Lyons-Burke in top hat), who famously stalled women’s suffrage and jailed and tortured suffragists. At odd moments the musical has him muttering to anyone in earshot, “Mansplain, mansplain, mansplain.” He may be historically a dick,  but here he’s the butt of the joke.

Suffragists in a scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Photo by John Meyers.

For nearly three years, Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw (book and lyrics) and Charlie Barnett (music) have been collaborating on a musical that would popularize the much-ignored story of the courageous women who fought for decades against a system stacked against them to get the right to vote. The idea was to have it ready by the women’s suffrage centennial next year. Notable figures in this struggle—such as Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Ida B. Wells—would be brought to life in scenes and show tunes together with a chorus of dancers and singers.

Dancers Becca Weiss, Angela Norris, and Danielle Marquis in ’19: The Musical.’ Photo by John Meyers.

Portions of the work in progress have been presented in more than 30 workshop productions. I reported on one at 1st Stage last January, which was when I first recognized not only the outstanding songwriting gifts of the creators but also the enormous challenge they had undertaken: to reconcile the requirements of a song-and-dance Broadway-style musical with the underlying gravitas and hostility in the history of women’s suffrage, which in fact had taken a punishing path to its happyish ending. Now aptly at the National Museum for Women and the Arts (though on a small stage not well equipped for live theater), the full two acts with book intact had their world premiere, and the creators’ material could be appreciated more clearly—even when at times the execution got in its way.

The musical begins at the end, right after the 19th Amendment has passed, with an opening number that is inspired. The stage fills with women wearing black-and-white T-shirts that say Suffragist and singing a lighthearted ditty to a tune you could do the Charleston to, “19 (We Won).” It’s about how inequality “will soon be over”:

The 19th Amendment makes our gender ascendant!…
Our fight for equal rights is done!…
We should have equal pay within the year!…

This witty sendup of over-optimism, accompanied by over-ebullient choreography, gets the show off to a smart start. You just know a reality check is coming. Indeed, a savvy apparition appears—Susan B. Anthony, who in history did not live to see suffrage but who here as “Sue B” (Brenda Parker) warns the revelers in song that it’s not going to be “Easy.”

Scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Center: Brenda Parker (Susan B. Anthony). Photo by John Meyers.

We next meet a central figure in the struggle, Alice Paul, here nicknamed “AP” (Katie Ganem), who sings a beautiful ballad as a letter to her Mother (Karen Bralove) about her aspirations for equality and freedom (“Dear Mama”). Her fierce determination will lead a movement (and, coincidentally, propel the musical’s book) with a seriousness of purpose. AP teams up with Lucy Burns (Krystle Cruz) in a winking vaudeville-style number called “Partners in Crime.” Together they launch the National Women’s Party and the stage fills again with singers singing and dancers dancing to a rousing womanifesto, “New World Order.”

This buoying up of spirits will become a musical motif of the show as it turns its attention to the daunting conflicts—both external and internal—that the real-life movement faced.

The first of those conflicts is dramatized with the introduction of Carrie Chapman Catt (Maria Ciarrocchi), whose conservative blouse and skirt reflect her politics (“I’m Prim, So What”). Though Catt’s got plenty of grit (“You best not mess with me!”), she contrasts with the radical activism of AP and Burns (who will later wear a T-shirt saying Feminist AF). Subsequently in the show a tactical difference will divide them: Catt wants a cautious state-by-state approach to women’s suffrage; Paul insists the focus be federal. Here, in another upbeat song-and-dance number, the musical cleverly depicts the stresses and successes of coalition-building toward a common goal (“Two Sides of the Same Coin”).

A visit to London proves a sobering turning point. The American suffragists meet with British suffragists, in the persons of Christabel Pankhurst (Elizabeth Keith) and Emeline Pankhurst (Millicent Scarlett), who had been brutally jailed for public protests. “Power responds only to pressure,” Christabel tells them, meaning power will crack down on dissent. The Americans get the point, which is underscored when foremother Sue B reappears to spur them to civil disobedience: “Don’t make my mistakes… The right is more precious than peace.” Later AP will address a rally of women activists about what the future may hold: “I cannot guarantee you your safety. I cannot guarantee you your life.” And the show as essential feminist civics lesson gets a whole lot more real.

Scene from ’19: The Musical.’ Center: Millicent Scarlett (Ida B. Wells). Photo by John Meyers.

With the introduction of Ida B. Wells (Millicent Scarlett), the show confronts the racism of white suffragists head-on. Born in slavery and raised as a free woman, Wells became an important journalist of the era and was devoted to Black liberation. Here the character functions as the show’s conscience. When a major suffrage demonstration is being planned, AP critically decides that Wells should not march in front, so as not to lose the support of “white Southern ladies.” Several gorgeous songs express Wells’s dismay—and Scarlett’s vocals are powerful—”Will You Be Here for Me” and “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” in which AP pointedly stands her ground. Finally AP decides Wells can march in the rear with the  Howard University contingent. “I’ll march where I damn please” is Wells’s response:

Don’t talk to me about your pain… How dare you ask me to wait?… No more can I stand for this privileged equality… Only the Black woman can say when and where I enter.

That last line references the title of a work by the African American historian Paula Giddings, and it’s just one example of the many quotes tucked insightfully into the script. Another is a line the book gives to Alice Paul—”Courage in a woman is often mistaken for insanity”—which was actually what a male shrink said when refusing Woodrow Wilson’s order to declare her crazy.

The show includes some very dark episodes in the struggle, indelible reminders of just how brave these women were. In silhouette, backlit by red light, we see women political prisoners who have gone on hunger strike (“Jailed for Freedom”) being forcibly funnel-fed. Similarly in silhouette we see women arrested at a protest being pummeled by cops with billy clubs. “Protest, arrest, release, repeat” goes the refrain of another song-and-dance number (“Release & Repeat”), this time devoid of naive cheer.

During a visit to Wilson’s office, Alice Paul is amusingly met with the aforementioned mansplaining plus musical condescension: “Be a Sensible Girl,” he sings, backed up by a bouncy chorus line in polka dots. Preoccupied with a gathering war in Germany, Wilson is unsympathetic to her cause. “La la la” he says, plugging his ears to tune her out. Unimpressed, AP later calls him a “charlatan, fraud, hypocrite.” Only massive public pressure—which included a silent protest at the White House (“Silence”)—was to change presidential and congressional minds. But that pressure came at a great cost for movement sheros, who in 1917 were viciously imprisoned and tortured at the Lorton jail in Northern Virginia. (A museum near the site will open next year.)

Suffragist protesters attacked in ’19: The Musical.’ Photo by John Meyers.

After the embarrassment of that “night of terror,” Congress passed the 19th Amendment, leaving it up to at least 36 of the states to ratify. The nailbiter came down to Tennessee, where the outcome would be decided by the vote of one tiebreaker: Representative Harry Burn (Gregory Scott Stuart). In one of the most amusing and touching scenes, he is schooled by his mother (Scarlett) in the beautiful “Listen to Your Mother”—and he comes around.

There follow more big musical numbers of celebration and empowerment including a “Reclaiming Our Time” chorale and a very moving “My country, ’tis of thee, / Sweet land of liberty, / Of thee I sing…” When near the end Alice Paul reads the actual text of the 19th Amendment, it comes not with the fizzy optimism of the beginning but with deep emotion well earned:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Suffragists in ’19: The Musical.’ Photo by John Meyers.

19: The Musical reclaims a time when women fought like hell and paid a price so that women today can go to the polls—even if like most white women in America three years ago they vote a racist idiot into the White House. The book is sturdy, the lyrics are skillful, the score is first rate. I’ve listened to and enjoyed the preliminary cast album over and over on Spotify (see link below). It’s terrific.

That said, the show feels long, and the boost-your-spirits musical numbers get repetitive. Worse, the choreography was too show-off-y for this small stage, too cutesy, and did not so much enhance the storytelling as distract from it.  At times it was as if Busby Berkley and June Taylor had a quarrel and no one won. The production of this musical needs to trust more the substance of its storyline. There’s too much ingratiating, too much making nice.

The creators are raising funds to do an industry reading in New York for Broadway investors, producers, and directors. My hope for this show is that it secures such professional backing and that its next iteration will be a production conception worthy of the very promising material. (Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.)

Musical Numbers

ACT I
19 (We Won)
Easy
Dear Mama
The Reasons
Partners in Crime
New World Order
I’m Prim, So What
No Matter the Price
Will You Be Here for Me
Put Yourself in My Shoes
Will You Be Here for Me (Reprise)
Missy
The Bloody March
Liberty For Inez
Dear Mama (Inez Reprise)
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Sensible Girl
The War at Home

ACT II
Right Women, Right Time
Dear Lucy
Silence
Release & Repeat
Victory Will Be Mine
Damned if I Do
Release & Repeat (Reprise)
Reclaiming My Time
Night of Terror
Jailed for Freedom
Evolution
Hypocrite’s Tango
Easy (Reprise)
19 (Reprise)
So Close
Listen to Your Mother
Dear Mama/19 (Reprise)
Easy (Reprise)
Reclaiming Our Time (Reprise)

Cast

Alice Paul (aka AP): Katie Ganem
Carrie Chapman Catt: Maria Ciarrocchi
Emmeline Pankhurst / Ida B. Wells: Millicent Scarlett
Lucy Burns: Krystle Cruz
Sue B. Anthony (aka Sue B): Brenda Parker
Christabel Pankhurst / Inez Milholland: Elizabeth Keith
President Woodrow Wilson / Dr. Gannon: Brian Lyons-Burke
Police Chief Sylvester / Representative Harry Burn: Gregory Scott Stuart
Chorus & Dancers: CinCin Fang, Haylee Green, Raquel Jennings (swing), Danielle Marquis, Angela Norris, Reyina Senatus, Katy Sherlach, Elizabeth Spikes, Rebecca Weiss, Katie Zajic
Ensemble: Alexis Primus, Katy Sherlach
Mother / Ensemble: Karen Bralove

Production Team 

Jennifer Schwed: Writer/Lyricist/Director/Producer
Doug Bradshaw: Writer/Lyricist/Director/Producer
Charlie Barnett: Composer/MusicalDirector/Arranger/ Piano/Producer

19 the Musical – Review from Maryland Theatre Guide

Theatre Review: ’19: The Musical’ by Through the 4th Wall
Productions at National Museum of Women in the Arts
mdtheatreguide.com/2019/11/theatre-review-19-the-musical-by-through-the-4th-wall-productions-atnational-
museum-of-women-in-the-arts/
The cast of ’19: The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of John Meyers.
“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-
1/2
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

19 the Musical – Review from K Street Magazine

19: The Musical’ Holds World Premiere at NMWA

Posted on November 26, 2019 in Around Town, Arts/Theatre

From an early stage reading of 19: The Musical. Image credit: Louis Sica

There’s a sculpture in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol that is often overlooked, but is destined to get an exceptional amount of attention in the coming year.  Adelaide Johnson’s monument to women of the suffrage movement depicts three early advocates, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony… as well as an unfinished block of marble behind them which is believed to suggest that the fight for women’s rights also remains unfinished.

The world premiere of a new musical about suffrage, 19: The Musical, calls to mind this sculpture. The U.S. is coming upon the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and women, while they proudly exercise their right to vote, still fight against other disenfranchisements and inequities. Especially in this era of #MeToo, equal rights remains a work in progress.

From an early stage workshop. Image courtesy 19themusical.com

19: The Musical gives a glimpse of the How and Why. And while most Americans can tout Susan B. Anthony’s name, but perhaps don’t know the role of other tenacious women — like Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt or Ida B. Wells — in the climax of the fight for the 19th, it gives progress some historic perspective.

As a lesson, the play is brilliant, bringing lesser famed characters and their roles to light in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.  Charlie Barnett’s scores are passionate and powerful, and 19’s script, lyrics and plot by co-creators Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw are stage-perfect (including an ironic – but true! – twist near its conclusion). The play’s movement is interesting, but seems gratuitous and doesn’t always work well to advance the plot. But like its theme, 19: The Musical is evolving. Perhaps a future Broadway version will include more character development and less choreography.

Final bows at the world premiere performance at NMWA

For its world premiere performance, DC’s Katie Ganam plays a convincing Alice Paul: fierce and robust of voice, and aggressive without finesse.  Brenda Parker keeps the story moving along poignantly as heavenly narrator Susan B. Anthony; but it is Millicent Scarlett that steals the show as Ida B. Wells. She shines the brightest spotlight on both the fact that suffrage didn’t have a 100% cohesive strategy and that black suffrage had — has — that much more of a heartbreaking and tragic journey.

But it’s not all tears and trials. At its heart, 19: The Musical details a triumph.  Audiences will chuckle over Woodrow Wilson’s mansplaining (and other 21 century references, like being #blessed). And if you’re in the market for feminist t-shirts, the slogans are sensational.

19: The Musical plays for only three nights at the National Museum for Women in the Arts — all already entirely sold out.  Yet audiences will no doubt hear more about this timely musical as the 19th Amendment celebrates its centennial.

***

Amendment XIX

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. (Ratified August 18, 1920)

 

Broadway World reviews Einstein’s Girl

Broadway World reviews Einstein’s Girl

Thanks to Jennifer Perry of Broadway World for this stellar review of Einstein’s Girl:

This past weekend, triple threat theatrical talent Gia Mora returned to the DC metro area with her one woman cabaret act, interestingly titled Einstein’s Girl. Local theatregoers who have frequented the likes of Signature Theatre, Metro Stage, Ford’s Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage and more likely know Ms. Mora for her strong, high soprano belt, and equally strong dancing and acting skills. It’s less likely they know that Gia is a bit of an amateur theoretical physics geek.

Physics and singing? Who would have thought? It’s certainly an unlikely mix of interests yet Ms. Mora beautifully brought these two passions – and more – together in her unique and highly original cabaret, which is making the rounds in venues in California, New York, and the DC area. With it, Ms. Mora delivered a mixture of contemporary patter songs and standards, along with original stories and commentary that explore the science of love in our increasingly interconnected yet lonesome world.

Clearly, the topic of love/romance has served as a foundation for many a cabaret. Though not a completely tired topic – after all it is universally relatable and multi-faceted – it can be met by many a groan for those looking for a cabaret that’s a bit different. Ms. Mora managed the unthinkable here – putting a fresh spin on the subject of love. Melding intellectual thoughts on topics as varied as black holes and supercomputing and devilishly funny commentary on the intersection between American obsession with technology and the search for love with sultry, jazz-infused vocals, she provided a convincing argument for why a cabaret about love/romance might not be so tired after all.

The success of Ms. Mora’s self-penned cabaret (with additional material from Brad Brown) is not only due to her strong thematic structure – though that’s certainly a key ingredient – but also her immediately relatable persona. From the time she appeared on stage to the encore number, she naturally commanded the stage and made one take notice not only when she was singing, but when she relayed her thoughts on the admittedly varied, yet connected subjects with spoken word. Having seen many a cabaret where the ‘in-between-songs’ banter was downright painful and awkward – and left me wondering when the performer would just sing – I am happy to report that there’s very little of that (if any) painfulness in this performance. She was simply charming.

Yet, sing she did. Backed by her equally talented music director on piano, Charlie Barnett, she more than proved her vocal versatility. From comedic, contemporary musical theatre-like numbers such as “Oh, Internet” (Hannah Hart), “I Google You” (Amanda Palmer/Neil Gaiman), and “The Facebook Song” (Kate Miller-Heidke), to more traditional standards like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (Harry Woods) and pop-rock numbers like “Fools in Love” (Joe Jackson), Ms. Mora comfortably delivered emotionally on-point vocals with technical precision.

While it would be difficult to point out some highlights, three particular numbers caught my interest for different reasons.

“Glorious Higgs,” (Michael Flanders/Donald Swann with lyrics by Danuta Orlowska), first performed by a bunch of physicists at CERN (a hotbed of physics research in Switzerland), comically considers issues of importance in – of all things – quantum physics. When’s the last time you heard a song about that? This song gave Ms. Mora an opportunity to ‘geek out’ so-to-speak on a subject of interest to her in an accessible way while entertaining the audience members with her playful vocals.

Though more than a few Broadway divas have included John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “The World Goes Round” (from New York, New York) in their respective cabaret acts, I appreciated that Ms. Mora put her own unique vocal spin on this fantastic number. As a result of her unique phrasing, textured vocals, and apparent connection with the lyrics, it was like hearing the song for the first time. She followed up this sensational vocal performance with an emotional take on “Second Star to the Right” (Sammy Fain/Sammy Cahn). This number displayed her quiet and contemplative side and was a perfect ending to her delightful act.

Running Time: About 90 minutes with no intermission. Einstein’s Girl was a one-night-only performance at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club – 7719 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, MD – on April 13, 2013. For a listing of Gia Mora’s upcoming performances, visit her website.

Gia Mora "Einstein's Girl" Review

        Playing piano for Gia’s show is one of the great pleasures in my life.  Here is a recent review from Cabaret Scenes:

Stardust twinkled down at the Gardenia during Gia Mora’s show, and I don’t mean just because she included that Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish song in the act. Mora is the complete package—great voice, songwriting ability, humor, intelligence, looks and imagination. The unique theme was “The science of love…theoretically speaking.” “Love” was dealt with on two fronts: Mora’s love and passion for science and examining love through science. Subatomic particles, the Big Bang Theory, history of the universe and other scientific matters were cleverly tied to the search for, glories and disappointments of love.

She set the tone right off the bat with her own witty song, written with Brad Brown, called “E=MC2.”The history of the universe was covered with her lyrics and Mozart’s music in “March of the Quarks.” Oh, how I wish my science teachers had presented this material in such an appealing manner.

Her repertoire mixed standards, like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” in which she demonstrated her scatting ability, with contemporary social-media songs, such as another Mora original, “Missing David B.-w4m-41” (dealing with missed connections on Craigslist) and Kate Miller-Heidke’s “The Facebook Song.”

This show was a joy from start to finish, and marks the start of that stardust coalescing into a star.

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