Leading Ladies

Broadway’s most celebrated actresses take center stagethe-color-purple-broadway

The month of May marks the beginning of a thriving summer season in New York City, which only heightens the pulsing energy of an already vibrant Times Square filled with lively productions on the stages of the theatre district. At the heart of these productions are the passionate and immensely talented performers creating the stories and characters that transport audiences to different worlds night after night. In particular, from Ethel Merman to Patti Lupone to Jessie Mueller, the Great White Way has a grand tradition of powerful actresses and dazzling divas leading the way. This month, as we take time to celebrate the women in our lives on Mother’s Day, we shine a light on some of Broadway’s brightest Leading Ladies.

The Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home imaginatively explores the life of one woman at three different stages in her life as she navigates self-discovery amidst familial turmoil. Inspired by the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, this touching biographical musical is the story of one woman from childhood to adulthood as she not only discovers her own identity as an artist and woman, but also comes to terms with the unexpected death of her enigmatic and elusive father. The production is not only heartfelt but offers tour-de-force performances from the actresses bringing to life Alison, her girlfriend, and mother. In addition to Best Musical, Fun Home earned Tony Awards for composer Jeanine Tesori, book writer Lisa Kron, and director Sam Gold. (Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St.)

Another powerful musical showcasing the talents of leading ladies is the stage adaptation of Alice Walker’s beloved novel The Color Purple. The production touts critically acclaimed performances from the indomitable Cynthia Erivo as the show’s hero Celie, Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) as the spirited Sophia and last but certainly not least, a legendary turn from Academy and Grammy Award-winning superstar Jennifer Hudson, in her Broadway debut, as the sultry jazz singer Shug Avery. Inspired by the classic novel and film, The Color Purple is a compelling story of the resilient power of faith, family and love. The show spans decades in the South as heroine Celie grapples with an abusive relationship, love, and the search for her long lost sister. John Doyle, known for his inventive stagings of Company and Sweeney Todd, helms this intimate production which highlights the inspirational Pulitzer Prize-winning story. With an original score fused with ragtime, jazz, blues, and gospel, The Color Purple allows its leading ladies to sing from their hearts while inspiring those lucky enough to be in the audience. (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.)

The new musical On Your Feet! offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of music’s most iconic leading ladies, Gloria Estefan. The electric new production which follows the lives of Estefan and her husband Emilio features the same undeniable passion and energy for which the Grammy Award-winning artist is known. Dancing to life with the pulsing beats of Estefan’s greatest hits including “Conga,” “Rhythm is gonna get you,” “1, 2, 3.” and of course, “Get On Your Feet” the musical follows the Cuban American couple’s journey from humble beginnings to international super-stardom. Two-time Tony Award-winning Director Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Kinky Boots) is at the helm with explosive choreography by Serigo Trujillo (Jersey Boys). This inspirational story about the power of love features a winning performance from leading lady Ana Villafane as the unstoppable Estefan. (Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway)

After a star making and Tony Award winning turn as music legend Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Jessie Mueller makes a triumphant return to the Great White Way in the shining new musical Waitress. With a brand new original score by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin), Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a small town waitress, stifled by her surroundings and stuck in a loveless marriage whose only escape is a passion for pie-making. When happenstance provides an opportunity to put her love of baking to use while offering an escape from her provincial life, she is forced to choose between her dreams and her commitments. Paulus, recently selected for the 2014 TIME 100, Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, directs this new musical which champions motherhood, friendship, and re-embracing long forgotten dreams. (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.)

(Photo by Ruven Afanador / The Color Purple’s Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo & Danielle Brooks)