Suffs' Hannah Cruz on the Beauty of Working in a Space With No Men | Playbill

Special Features Suffs' Hannah Cruz on the Beauty of Working in a Space With No Men

The new Shaina Taub Broadway musical features an all-female and non-binary cast. For its actors, the experience has been revelatory.

Hannah Cruz Justin Patterson

When the Woman Suffrage Procession marched in Washington, D.C. in 1913, Inez Milholland led the charge astride a white horse, with white robes flowing behind her and a gold crown atop her dark hair. She was noted for her beauty, but she also possessed a bright legal mind and was a committed activist for women’s rights in both the suffrage and labor movements.

In the new musical Suffs, about the group of women who tirelessly worked for passage of the 19th Amendment securing the right for women to vote, Hannah Cruz makes her Broadway debut as Inez. The march is recreated on the stage of the Music Box Theatre. It’s one of Cruz’s favorite moments in the show as she sits majestically atop a white horse on wheels, surrounded by the all-female and non-binary cast walking in slow motion toward the front of the stage.

“Being able to tell the story of Inez specifically is really important to me,” says Cruz. “Without her, I truly don’t think the movement would have gotten as far as it did. She was more than just a face for them. She really incited people to get talking about the movement. She was the first PR girl, really.” It is a cruel twist of fate then that Milholland's name, and the name of many suffragists, have been widely forgotten in the popular culture.

But hopefully no longer, if the new musical Suffs succeeds on Broadway. 

Hannah Cruz and company of Suffs Joan Marcus

Suffs premiered at The Public Theater in April 2022 featuring a book, music, and lyrics by Shaina Taub, who also stars in the work as suffrage leader Alice Paul. Leigh Silverman directed the work for both its Off-Broadway and Broadway debuts. In the Public staging, Cruz played Polish labor activist Ruza Wenclawska (Hamilton's Philippa Soo played Milholland). That production was the first time Cruz had ever worked on a show that had no men in the cast.

“I didn’t realize what I was missing, or like, what parts of myself I was holding back in other rooms until I got in a room with all women and gender nonconforming people,” Cruz says. “I think I was holding a tightness in my physicality that was finally unleashed when we did [Suffs] at the Public. And since that, it’s only made me a better actor. There’s something about working with all women that allows you to really get into your center. It felt so fundamentally different to me. And it’s a really safe space.”

Besides a cast full of women, Suffs has also made headlines with its famous producers, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and activist Malala Yousafzai. Both of whom joined the producing team after Taub personally asked them to via letters, stressing what it would mean to the show to have them involved.

READ: How Suffs on Broadway Built Its Team of Powerful Women

For Cruz, their high-profile participation validates the work. “Art throughout history reflects the time we’re in," she says. "It also teaches us about ourselves. It teaches us about other people’s experience. It teaches us about history, but it also can very truly insight change. There are so many things, so many pillars of what art can do. And I think that because people who are change-makers are directly involved with it, it’s validating. More people will see it and then more people will speak about it, which will incite change inevitably."

Hannah Cruz Justin Patterson

The 19th Amendment was passed in 1919 and ratified in 1920. But the work of Suffs and how it speaks to today’s audience goes deeper. Alice Paul was also the author of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed in Congress but was never ratified by three fourths of states before its expiration deadline. Led by fourth-wave feminism and the #MeToo movement, there has been activism around encouraging Congress to extend the deadline and fighting for passage. In a fortuitous bit on timing, the ERA will be on the ballot for ratification in New York State in November, something the Suffs team has been keen to draw attention to

To Cruz, looking back at history can help to put current fights into focus. “In a time where women’s rights are daily on the chopping block, it’s very scary," says Cruz. "To see these women band together and work together to create change for women back then, when their circumstances and the odds were even further stacked against them, to see that they could actually create change is a really incredibly hopeful thing to see. Telling this story right now has become increasingly more important to me.”

Suffs does come with a call-to-action. It encourages voter registration via a QR code posted in its lobbies. While audiences may cheer when they hear the ERA mentioned or get excited to see Secretary and President Clinton in the audience, the show’s real strength lies in how it movingly dramatizes the story of the suffragists who were imprisoned or, in Milholland’s case, died fighting for their cause.

Cruz has one more story to illustrate just how inspirational Suffs and the women at the heart of it truly are: “We had a bunch of little girls come backstage, I think it was a Girl Scout Troop or something. And they were all talking about which Suff they were. It was like how we picked out which Spice Girls we were. It was so cute. They all had their favorites and everybody was different.”

Photos: Shaina Taub's Suffs on Broadway

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