Women in Musicals

Hi readers! Welcome to my blog. My name is Ruoying and I’m a placement student at GWL. This time I will introduce women characters in musicals!

Women figures, as in literature, have formed a significant part of musical theatres. Women were not only supporting characters but also the focus of many productions. In this blog, I will present altogether 13 female characters from 6 musical theatres covering three different languages. Some of them played their role in history and some are fictional characters. The German lyrics cited in this blog are translated into English by me. It’s a very subjective blog but I do hope you will enjoy reading it!

Six Queens from Six

The story of King Henry VIII and his six wives has been told many times and everyone knows every detail of it. But most of the stories and adaptations are told from the male perspective. Six, on the contrary, only gives the stage to women. Neither the King nor any of the other men are on the stage. They dress in modern clothing instead of the heavy mediaeval dresses in their portraits and throw a concert with the name “Divorced, Beheaded, Live”. Compared to other musicals that usually take more than 2 hours, Six is rather short and only covers 70 mins with an opening, six solo songs, and an epilogue. Six queens organise a competition to find out who is the leading lady among them. Each one of them tells their sufferings. For example, Catherine of Aragon’s miserable marriage and 5 miscarriages, Katherine Howard’s childhood when she is sexually abused, and Catherine Parr’s hidden talent as a writer and her fight for women’s education. In the epilogue, they decide that Henry does not matter in their lives, and it is pointless to find out who is the leading lady because they are all independent individuals who would have had a rich life. The following are extracts from the opening song and the epilogue.

[Listen up, let me tell you a story

A story that you think you’ve heard before

We know you know our names

And our fame and our faces

Know all about the glories and the disgraces

I’m done cause all this time

I’ve been just one word in a stupid rhyme

So I pick up a pen and a microphone

History’s about to get overthrown

Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived


[We are one of a kind, no category

Too many years lost in his story

We’re free to take our crowning glory

For five more minutes

We’re SIX


From the left with performers’ names in the brackets: Jane Seymour (Claudia Kariuki), Katherine Howard (Tsemaye Bob-Egbe), Catherine of Aragon (Amy di Bartolomeo), Anne Boleyn (Amanda Lindgren), Anne of Cleves (Dionne Ward-Anderson), Catherine Parr (Meesha Turner)

Beverley Bass in Come from Away

Come from Away is a Canadian musical about the yellow ribbon operation in 2001. Around 40 planes were forced to land at the Gander International Airport, Newfoundland on September 11th after the terrorist attack in New York. Around 7,000 passengers, crew members, and about 20 animals had to live in the small town where the local population was only about 10,000. Beverley Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial plane, was the pilot in one of the planes. When in the musical the character Beverley Bass is a combination of several pilots, her solo song “Me and the Sky” is the actual depiction of her own life. She tells her story of how she dreamed of becoming a pilot when she was only a child, her working experience flying for a mortician, and how she becomes the first female captain with an all-female crew. I would highly recommend this narrative song to everyone, and I literally cry every time I listen to this song.

[American Airline had the prettiest planes

So I applied as a flight engineer

But the World War II pilots, they all complained

They said, girls shouldn’t be in the cockpit

Hey lady, hey baby, why don’t you grab us a drink

And the flight attendants weren’t my friends back then

And they said, are you better than us, do you think?

But I kept getting hired

And the World War II crew, they retired

And the girls all thought much higher of me

1986, the first female American captain in history

-Me and the Sky]

Jenn Colella as Beverley Bass

Violet Newstead, Judy Bernly, and Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5

This show is based on Patricia Resnick’s novel about office sexism during the 1960s in the USA. Violet is a single mother and a talented employee who is better than most of the male colleagues but never gets a promotion. Judy is a young newcomer in her early 20s whose husband left her for a 19-year-old girl. Doralee, the boss’ secretary, is often mistaken as the boss’ mistress because of her body shape and blond hair. The three women establish a strong friendship at work. After a series of accidents, they accidentally lock the boss up in his villa and have to take care of the company on their own. During their term in office, the company undergoes a series of positive reformations and the production increases greatly. Finally, Violet becomes a female CEO, Judy remains single and writes a bestseller Life without Dick (the name of her ex-husband), and Doralee becomes a successful singer. I actually watched this show in Glasgow in January and the show itself, though with some logical shortcomings, is super hilarious.

From the left with performers’ names in the brackets: Violet (Caroline Sheen), Judy (Amber Davies), Doralee (Natalie McQueen)

Juliette in Romeo et Juliette 

And let’s come to the famous Juliette Capulet from the French musical Romeo and Juliette, which is also one of my favourite musicals. The story of teenage love is well known around the world and Juliette in this musical production has her own characteristics. After watching several versions of Romeo and Juliette, I found that it is actresses who give the character strength and power. The lyrics are nothing special and plain, but all the actresses portraying Juliette together present a fearless young girl, and it is very difficult to discuss Juliette from the show without turning to these actresses. I remember reading somewhere that if Romeo represents love in the show, then Juliette represents courage. As a 16-year-old teenager who has never fallen in love before, she has the courage to love, to fight against her father’s control for love, and finally dies for love. The show itself has been revived multiple times and has been adapted into almost 20 different languages. Each actress adds their own interpretation into the classic character and adds to her charm.

From the left, Cecilia Cara (French 2001), Joy Esther (French 2007-2015), Clemence Illiaquer (French 2016-2019), Dóra Szinetár (Hungarian 2005), Marjan Shaki (German 2005)

Sarah in Tanz der Vampire (Dance of Vampire)

Remade from Polanski’s film, Tanz der Vampire has been on stage for almost three decades. Sarah, the leading female character, is the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter. She is locked up in the room by her over-protective father, who’s afraid that she will be harmed by outside dangers, for example, bitten by the vampire in the castle. Sarah is by no means a naïve girl and she is eager to explore the unknown fearlessly. She is a young woman who desires beautiful clothing, fancy balls, and an exciting outside world. We may argue that it is reckless for her to accept the vampire’s gift and to participate in the ball, but she is indeed young and fearless and aches for freedom. She finally goes to the vampire ball after receiving an invitation from the vampire lord and is changed into a vampire.

The duo Draußen ist Freiheit is sung by Sarah and Alfred, a young researcher who falls in love with Sarah. Sadly, she does not love him. So when they are singing this song, Alfred is thinking about Sarah but Sarah is thinking about freedom away from home.

[Draussen ist Freiheit                                                 There is freedom outside

Dort, wo der Horizont beginnt                                  Where the horizon begins

Gibt es ein Land                                                         There is a land

In dem alle Wunder möglich sind                             Where all the wonders will come true

Keine Mauer, die uns je trennt                                  There’s no wall separating us

Keine Grenze, die wir nicht überwinden                   No border that we cannot overcome

Komm zu mir                                                              Come to me

Denn mit dir kann ich bis zu den Sternen gehen Because with you, I can reach the stars

-Draußen ist Freidom (there is freedom outside)]

Sarah at the ball

Empress Elisabeth in Elisabeth

If Elisabeth sounds unfamiliar, you will definitely recognise her through this name: Princess Sissi. Different from the German film in the 1950s, this German musical retells her story from a more realistic perspective: a selfish and unloving mother, wife, and queen but also a woman with a free spirit who never surrenders. She marries the Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph when she is still a teenager and love blows her mind. But she soon discovers that court life restrains her and no one, not even her newlywed husband, will support her. She chooses to fight on herself, with her beauty as the weapon, for what she wants, from the right to educate her own children to exsert diplomatic influence concerning Hungary.

In this musical, the creators add a ghost: der Tod (the Death). This gender non-binary character is established from the poems written by Elisabeth about death and her obsession with Heini’s poetry. They represent the inevitable fate of each individual and the Habsburg empire. But with the musical’s development and change in cast, the death gradually loses its divinity and becomes more humane; the story is becoming a romantic love story between Elisabeth and Death.

The following two extracts are my favourite, from “Ich gehoer nur mir” (I belong to me, Elizabeth’s solo) and “Wenn ich tanzen will” (when I want to dance, dual with the death)

[Willst du mich belehren                                       Your persuasion and lecture

Dann zwingst du mich bloß                                    Are only driving me to fly away

Zu fliehen vor der lästigen Pflicht                        From the annoying duties as an empress

Willst du mich bekehren, dann reiß ich mich los  If you want to change me, I will run away

Und flieg wie ein Vogel ins Licht                           And fly into the sky like a bird

Und will ich die Sterne, dann finde ich selbst dorthin    If I want stars, I will get them myself

Ich wachse und lerne und bleibe doch wie ich bin            I grow and learn, but keep who I am

Ich wehr mich bevor ich mich verlier                              I protect myself from lost

Denn ich gehör nur mir                                                   Because I belong only to me

-Ich gehör nur mir (I belong to me)]

[Wenn ich tanzen will                                             When I want to dance

Dann tanz ich so wies mir gefällt                           I dance the way I like

Ich allein bestimm die Stunde                                I set my own time

Ich allein wähl die Musik                                        And I choose my own music

Wenn ich tanzen will                                               When I want to dance

Dann tanze ich auf meine ganz besondere Art        I dance in my special way

Am Rand des Abgrunds                                           At the edge of a cliff

Oder nur in deinem Blick                                        Or only in front of you

-Wenn ich tanzen will (when I want to dance)]

Thank you very much for reading my blog. Please do not hesitate to leave me comments!












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