In an era where women are speaking up and challenging the status quo, the theater has followed suit with strong productions that change the way we typically think of our leading ladies. Art is imitating life and it’s playing out onstage in a season of productions that tackle everything from women and the Constitution, to what it’s like to find your true voice.
Among the exciting barrier breakers are “Summer: The Donna Summer Story,” which explores the singer at three different times in her life; “Six,” about a band of former wives who are tired of Henry VII; and “The Devil Wears Prada,” an obviously femme-forward production directed by Steppenwolf’s artistic director, Anna D. Shapiro.
Perhaps most anticipated, though, is the musical reinterpretation of the 2004 Tina Fey-directed movie “Mean Girls,” December 25 to January 26 at the Nederlander Theatre. Popular YouTuber Mariah Rose Faith plays Regina George, the most popular girl in a faux suburban Illinois high school until she goes toe to toe with new girl Cady Heron.
Faith was discovered in a casual video she made belting out one of the musical’s power ballads, “World Burn,” on her couch. Fey and musical director Jeff Richmond saw it and forwarded it to the casting company. Six auditions later she landed the part.
There is something special for Faith in having this tour experience with a female-dominated cast. “I’ve done so many shows that are truly male heavy and I try to seek out the power women in these shows … and it’s hard to get there,” she says. “But [here], every woman has stories that are so strong, and you just have to step in and live in them and it’s going to hold much power.”
The national tour varies a bit from the Broadway production. Fey altered the tour to fit the cast, adding a few modern updates, lots of social media references, and a twist to the ending.
On the surface the show is a commentary on what it’s like to deal with the pressures of popularity in high school. But Faith and her costars feel more responsibility in portraying these roles.
“I think that the whole show is about not changing yourself to be good enough,” she says. “What’s good enough is being the 100 percent amazing woman [or man] you are. That’s the power here.”
On another stage, a woman’s role in American history gets a nod. Playwright Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me,” premiering at Broadway Playhouse from March 4 to April 12, relays her life story and explores the relationship between the constitution and females. Schreck has always been drawn to the fact that the document contained very little in support of women until they were granted the right to vote in 1920.
Tony Award winner Maria Dizzia (known for her role as Polly Harper in “Orange Is the New Black”) plays Schreck, who won debates on the topic of women’s rights at age 15. She dives into four generations of women and their relationship with the Constitution.
Dizzia will be the first person outside of Schreck to play this role. The two will pull in experiences from Dizzia’s life as well as keep the key elements of Schreck’s life in the production. “It all leaves the audience in this very excited place, wanting to explore their own anecdotes about the Constitution, which is very galvanizing,” she says.
As for the overall trend of female-forward roles, Dizzia is really excited about it all, saying this is what “we haven’t seen enough of.” “When you spend a lifetime of watching women through men’s eyes it has an effect on you,” she says. “Now, with the perspective of women, a generation of females is able get a fuller picture of who they are.”