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March 11, 2021

Women Sharing The Spotlight: Musicals Carried By Women


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Roxie & Velma… Mame and Vera… Effie, Deena and Lorrell… when two or more great female leads share the stage, theatre magic happens! Here are 26 musicals featuring women standing (and singing) side by side.

As You Like It by Shaina Taub & Laurie Woolery (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 6m +Ensemble, Flexible Casting)
A ravishing new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic story of chance encounters and self-discovery, As You Like It is an immersive, dreamlike tale of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise. Featuring an original folk-pop score by Shaina Taub, this 90-minute musical features a dynamic female lead in Rosalind, guided by a female narrator, Jaques, who takes a compelling journey of her own.

Bernarda Alba by Michael John LaChiusa (US/UK)
(Drama / 10f)
In this all-female musical drama, a powerful matriarch virtually quarantines her five daughters after their father’s death. But as the girls’ dreams and desires challenge their mother’s harsh rules, the outside world begins to permeate their isolated existence.

Chicago by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse & John Kander (US/UK)
(Comedy / 10f, 9m)
Powerhouses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly – not to mention Matron Mama Morton and a host of “Merry Murderesses” – lead the action in this roaring twenties social satire. Has there ever been a better pairing of two triple-threat performers? When Roxie and Velma close out the show with their duet “Nowadays,” you’ll wonder if musical theatre ever gets any better.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Broadway Version) by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II & Douglas Carter Beane (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5f, 4m +Ensemble)
Can the world’s most famous fairy tale, featuring five women (as protagonist, primary supporting role, and all three villains) capture our hearts and our funny bones? “It’s Possible!” This Broadway adaptation of the classic musical features new characters, a hilarious libretto, surprising twists, and an unforgettable score from Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Dreamgirls by Tom Eyen & Henry Krieger (US/UK)
(Drama / 4f, 4m +Ensemble)
Effie, Deena and Lorrell take the stage by storm in this sweeping and inspirational journey through 20th century American pop music. Dreamgirls chronicles one Motown group’s rise from obscurity to superstardom. Through gospel, R&B, smooth pop, disco and more, Dreamgirls explores themes of ambition, hope and betrayal, all with strong, talented women front and center.

42nd Street by Harry Warren, Al Dubin, Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble (US/UK)
(Comedy / 7f, 6m +Ensemble)
In the ultimate show-biz musical, leading lady Dorothy Brock literally shares the spotlight when she allows youngster Peggy Sawyer to take her role in a glitzy Broadway hit called Pretty Lady. With a plethora of meaty female roles, 42nd Street celebrates Broadway, Times Square and the people who make the magic of musical theatre.

Fun Home by Jeanine Tesori & Lisa Kron (US/UK)
(Drama / 4f, 2m, 1 girl, 2 boys)
Not two, but three actresses share center stage in this honest and heartbreaking portrait of a lesbian graphic novelist and her complicated relationship with her father. Moving between past and present, Fun Home follows Alison Bechdel’s unique childhood at the family’s funeral home, her growing understanding of her own sexuality, and her ultimate reckoning with her father’s self-destruction. 

The Grass Harp by Kenward Elmslie, Claibe Richardson & Truman Capote (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5f, 4m, 2 girls, 3 boys)
Three women lead the narrative in this 1971 musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s intimate and moving play: Dollyheart, a sweet-natured spinster with a secret recipe for an elixir cure; her demanding sister, Verena, who is determined to exploit the recipe for her own purposes, and the revivalist Babylove, whose Miracle Show promises redemption for all. With a ravishing score and a touching book,The Grass Harp is a Broadway cult favorite featuring great roles for older actresses.

Gypsy by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 6f, 2m +Ensemble)
The Mother of All Musicals! This jewel of Broadway’s Golden Age features two of the greatest roles in musical theatre: the title character… and her mother.

Heathers The Musical by Kevin Murphy & Laurence O’Keefe (US/UK)
(Dark Comedy / 9f, 8m)
Westerberg High is ruled by a shoulder-padded, scrunchie-wearing junta: Heather, Heather, and Heather, the hottest and cruelest girls in all of Ohio. But misfit Veronica Sawyer rejects their evil regime for a new boyfriend, the dark and sexy stranger J.D., who plans to put the Heathers in their place – six feet under.

Jerry’s Girls by Jerry Herman (US/UK)
(Revue / 3f, Expandable)
This Broadway hit features three women sharing the stage as they sing all the best songs from immortal musicals like Mame, Hello Dolly!, Milk and Honey, Mack and Mabel, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine and La Cage Aux Folles.

The Life by Cy Coleman, Ira Gasman & David Newman (US/UK)
(Drama / 5f, 5m +Ensemble)
Jojo, Sonja, Queen, Mary, and Lou lead the way in this gritty, powerful, funny and frank look at street workers plying “The Oldest Profession” in 1980s Times Square. With emotionally revealing songs and realistically conflicted characters, The Life features a host of great female characters. Cy Coleman’s celebrated jazz and pop-inflected score concludes with Sonja and Queen singing a powerful two-woman duet called “My Friend.”

The Light in the Piazza by Craig Lucas & Adam Guettel (US/UK)
(Drama / 4f, 4m +Ensemble)
Victoria Clark and Kelli O’Hara originated the leading roles in this tender yet powerful portrait of a mother and daughter vacationing in Italy. Margaret and Clara are touring the Tuscan countryside when Clara meets the handsome Fabrizio. But a secret about Clara threatens to destroy her chance at happiness, and Margaret must make a life-changing decision. Craig Lucas’ sophisticated book and Adam Guettel’s ravishing score provide rich performance opportunities for both actresses.

Mame by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee & Jerry Herman (US/UK)
(Comedy / 6f, 6m +Ensemble)
Mame Dennis and Vera Charles are quintessential frenemies. “We’ll always be bosom buddies,” they sing in one of the greatest duets ever written for two women. This brassy, tuneful, hilarious and touching adaptation of Patrick Dennis’s bestseller Auntie Mame features two of musical theatre’s most colorful characters.

Nuncrackers by Dan Goggin (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5f, 1m, 2 girls, 2 boys)
The Little Sisters of Hoboken are here to make your holiday season merry and bright! All the nuns you love, plus Father Virgil and four students, take the stage to celebrate the season with warmth and hilarity.

Nunsense by Dan Goggin (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5f)
This zany, wholesome, hilarious musical revue features five great roles for women. The Little Sisters of Hoboken include: the feisty and stagestruck Mother Superior, competitive and highly competent Mary Hubert, streetwise Brooklynite Robert Anne, ditzy and sweet Mary Amnesia, and aspiring ballerina Mary Leo. With this combustible combination, Nunsense can’t help but rise to the heavens! Also available in a Large Cast Edition (US/UK).

The Rink by Terrence McNally, John Kander & Fred Ebb (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 5m +Ensemble)
Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli starred in the original Broadway run of this innovative musical set in Coney Island, New York. With powerhouse performers like Chita and Liza leading the bill, you know this show features two roles actresses would love to sink their teeth into! Just as Anna Antonelli’s roller rink is about to be demolished, her estranged daughter returns, sparking painful memories and reawakening unresolved conflict.

70, Girls, 70 by David Thompson, Norman L. Martin, John Kander & Fred Ebb (US/UK)
(Comedy / 6f, 4m +Ensemble)
Mildred Natwick, Lillian Roth and Lillian Hayman led the original Broadway cast of this wacky musical comedy featuring older actors. When a group of senior citizens resorts to shoplifting to save their retirement home from the wrecking ball, hilarity ensues. The tuneful score includes “Coffee in A Cardboard Cup” and “Yes.”

Side Show by Bill Russell & Henry Krieger (US/UK)
(Drama / 7f, 14m)
Based on the true story of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who became stars during the Depression, Side Show is a moving portrait of two women whose extraordinary connection brought them fame but denied them love. In this crowd-pleasing, large-cast musical, two strong women quite literally share the leading role.

Smile by Howard Ashman & Marvin Hamlisch (US/UK)
(Comedy / 10f, 6m, 2 boys)
This touching and satirical musical about a teen beauty pageant features a host of great roles for young women. From the creators of Little Shop of Horrors and A Chorus Line, Smile follows the intrigue and exploits both onstage and off at the fictional Young American Miss Pageant in Santa Rosa, California.

The Spitfire Grill by James Valcq & Fred Alley (US/UK)
(Drama / 4f, 3m)
Based on the hit 1996 film, The Spitfire Grill is a heartwarming and inspirational musical tale of redemption, perseverance and family. Set in a small Wisconsin town, the show features a gorgeous, soulful score and several strong roles for women, including an emotionally contained parolee and her flinty boss.

Sweet Charity by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman & Dorothy Fields (US/UK)
(Comedy / 4f, 4m +Ensemble)
The men may come and go, but Charity and her friends Helene and Nikki are the backbone of this classic musical set in the 1960s. In this exuberant, groovy, hilarious show, Charity tries again and again to find her dream and make something of herself. The show’s strongest numbers, including “Big Spender,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “If They Could See Me Now,” all feature women in the spotlight.

Swingtime Canteen by Linda Thorsen Bond, William Repicci, Charles Busch & Various Artists (US/UK)
(Comedy / 5f)
What better way to feature women than with an all-female band? In this wartime musical revue, MGM star Marian Ames and her all-girl band from the Hollywood Canteen entertain the troops in 1944 London. The rip-roaringest canteen show of them all features a wide variety of women: still-glamorous movie legend Marian Ames, her drum-playing stand-in Jo Sterling, her skittish niece Katie, solid-as-a-rock piano-playing riveter Topeka Abotelli, and leggy chorine Lilly McBain. These five archetypal film characters prove their mettle while singing over 30 vintage wartime classics.

Vanities: The Musical by Jack Heifner & David Kirshenbaum (US/UK)
(Dramatic Comedy / 3f)
Vanities: The Musical
chronicles the life-affirming journey of three vivacious Texas women as they grow from teen cheerleaders to sorority sisters to liberated women and beyond. With a tunefully evocative score by David Kirshenbaum (Summer of ’42), the show captures a snapshot-sharp portrait of the lives, loves, disappointments and dreams of these young women growing up during the turbulent sixties and reconnecting in the late eighties.

War Paint by Doug Wright, Michael Korie & Scott Frankel (US/UK)
(Drama / 10f, 5m)
Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden defined beauty standards for the first half of the 20th century. Brilliant innovators with humble roots, both were masters of self-invention who sacrificed everything to become the country’s first major female entrepreneurs. They were also fierce competitors whose 50-year tug-of-war would give birth to an industry. From Fifth Avenue society to the halls of Congress, their rivalry was relentless and legendary – pushing both women to build international empires in a world dominated by men.

Woman of the Year by Peter Stone, Fred Ebb & John Kander (US)
(Comedy / 6f, 11m +Ensemble)
Though most of the musical is carried by a strong female lead, Woman of the Year features one of the all-time great female duets: “The Grass Is Always Greener,” a hilarious competition song between high-powered newswoman Tess Harding and her earthy homemaker friend, Jan. In this Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of the famous Tracy/Hepburn battle-of-the-sexes film, it’s the scene between two women that truly stops the show.

Wonderful Town by Joseph Fields, Jerome Chodorov, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden & Adolph Green (US)
(Comedy / 3f, 4m +Ensemble)
Based on the hit play and film My Sister Eileen, Wonderful Town tells the comical and heartwarming story of two Midwestern sisters, newly arrived in New York. Featuring a thrilling score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Comden & Green, the musical provides two actresses with a host of rich material, including their wistful duet, “Ohio.”

To learn more about these and other great shows for women, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2016 Broadway production of War Paint (Joan Marcus).