Female-led West End shows to see for International Women's Day
International Women's Day is a celebration of women - from marking their achievements to raising awareness of campaigns for women's rights and fundraising for female-focussed charities. It's all about making a collective effort to foster gender equity through positive, impactful change.
International Women's Day was born out of the universal female suffrage movement and the social revolution of the early 20th century. In 1909, the Socialist Party of America organised a National Woman's Day, and the following year, the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen decided to hold such a day every year - with the first one taking place in 1911. International Women's Day became a national holiday in Soviet Russia in 1917 and subsequently in other communist countries, but it wasn't until 1977 that the United Nations recognised it as an official global holiday.
Celebrated on March 8, International Women's Day has a different theme every year. The campaign theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias, encouraging everyone to tackle stereotypes and discrimination, to strive for a world that is diverse and inclusive, and to embrace difference.
If you're looking for ways to celebrate International Women's Day, why not book tickets for a West End show? There are numerous fantastic productions that embody those campaign ideas, and the theatre community has a long history of challenging stereotypes and showing the power of difference.
Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, ends with Juliet taking her own life, alongside her lover. But what if, instead of being forever defined by her first romance, Juliet decided to embark on a new adventure? That's the empowering premise of this exuberant musical, which also sees the Bard's wife, Anne Hathaway, debating the show's plot points and offering a female point of view.
It's a joyful choice for an International Women's Day show, one centring not just a range of women but people of colour and of different ages, a well-drawn non-binary character, and those who don't fit gender expectations. The takeaway message is that you shouldn't have to conform to be happy; you just need to be yourself.
The musical features pop hits by Max Martin, including from amazing female artists like Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Jessie J, Pink, and Robyn. Miriam Teak-Lee leads the current West End cast as Juliet and Cassidy Janson is Anne Hathaway.
If you're looking for an International Women's Day show that digs into its 2022 theme of breaking bias, then Wicked is a perfect choice. The long-running musical subverts the Wizard of Oz tale, where the Wicked Witch of the West is an irredeemable villain, and instead gives us a version where that witch, Elphaba, is a victim of misunderstanding and discrimination.
Elphaba's green skin immediately marks her as different, and, though she dreams of gaining the Wizard's approval so that she'll finally be accepted, she gradually learns that others see her power as threatening. In contrast, her friend from school Glinda is labelled "good" because she fulfils her expected female role and doesn't challenge the status quo. Wicked is also radical because the show puts a friendship between two women at the heart of the show. Although there is romance, too, ultimately it's not as important as standing up for what's right, as well as learning from and supporting other women. "Defying Gravity" is the ultimate anthem for International Women's Day.
What better show to see for International Women's Day than one about six women reclaiming their version of "herstory"? That's what this original pop musical featuring the six wives of Henry VIII is all about. The infamous monarch is nowhere to be seen in this version. Instead, the queens take their rightful place center stage and sing about what the king put them through and why they deserve their rightful places in the history books.
While at the outset, the musical appears to be about which queen had it the hardest, the overall message is perfect for International Women's Day: there's room for everyone and we're all more powerful when we come together. Plus, you'll get to enjoy some of the catchiest earworms in the West End, with dance numbers, ballads, and hits inspired by modern pop queens like Beyonce, Adele, Lily Allen, Ariana Grande, Alicia Keys, and more.
So discover your inner queen, and get tickets to see this empowering pop musical for International Women's Day.
Let it go this International Women's Day and take a trip to Arendelle where the story of sisterhood and embracing your own power will have you wanted to sing in your own ice castle. Disney's blockbuster hit has become an enrapturing stage musical, complete with magical effects and the same heartwarming story about sisters Anna and Elsa.
Elsa must learn to embrace her control over ice and snow, while Anna goes on a quest to reconnect with her sister and form the most powerful bond of all: sisterhood. Whether you're seeing the show with your girlfriends, your sisters, or even on your own, Frozen offers an empowering message for everyone about individuality, family, and friendship over romance.
So what are you waiting for? Venture through the open door at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and see a show that will make everyone realize their own power on International Women's day.
The acclaimed Canadian musical is based on an astonishing true story. On 9/11, thousands of plane passengers were stranded in a small town in Newfoundland, and the generous locals welcomed them with open arms. It's a glorious example of embracing difference and accepting and taking care of every one no matter their gender, sexuality, race, or faith.
Come From Away is also a brilliant pick for International Women's Day thanks to its numerous inspiring female characters. Chief among them is Beverley Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines plane. Her glorious solo number "Me and the Sky" tells her story of overcoming sexist assumptions to become a successful pilot and senior instructor.
The musical also honours women like dogged SPCA worker Bonnie, who cared for all the animals aboard the grounded planes, courageous rookie reporter Janice, and teacher Beulah, who comforted Hannah - a fellow mother of a firefighter - during the darkest days of her life. It's perfect for International Women's Day, as it proves what we can achieve when we come together.
Fairy tales aren't traditionally a haven of feminist messaging. But composer Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up with Emerald Fennell, who won a screenplay Oscar for her incendiary movie Promising Young Woman, to create this clever contemporary twist on familiar folklore.
Instead of a wide-eyed damsel, this Cinderella (played by Carrie Hope Fletcher) is a goth rebel at war with her narrow-minded town, Belleville, which prizes appearances above all else. Her best friend is the similarly sceptical Prince Sebastian, but when his flawless elder brother, Prince Charming, disappears, he is suddenly under pressure to save the monarchy's image.
This witty musical takes aim at impossible beauty standards and gender expectations for both men and women, but is particularly sympathetic towards the demands placed on the latter. That offers fantastic material for Rebecca Trehearn and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, as the Queen and Stepmother respectively, and even Cinderella's shallow stepsisters get a redemptive moment. It would definitely make for an uplifting and entertaining International Women's Day outing.
Neil Gaiman's beloved fantasy novel balances mystical elements with a heartfelt, relatable story - as does the wonderful National Theatre stage adaptation, now playing in the West End. The tale is primarily a childhood memory and sees a boy making friends with a girl, Lettie Hempstock, whose matriarchal family use their supernatural gifts to battle invaders. It's a truly magical theatrical experience thanks to director Katy Rudd, who conjures up spellbinding creations that still feel rooted to the real world. The monsters could be literal or metaphors for grief, loneliness, and trauma, while the Hempstocks offer comfort through their magic, but also through the warmth of their family life.
It's unusual to see such an independent, all-female clan held up as an ideal, and it neatly subverts our expectations. In Gaiman's world, where nothing is quite what it seems, this apparent mother, daughter, and grandmother are also unfathomably powerful beings. It's a transporting tale, and a wonderful International Women's Day trip, for audiences of all ages.
Faye Treadwell was a real-life trailblazer: a rare female, African-American manager in the music industry, and the woman who ensured the legacy of band The Drifters. This musical is a long overdue telling of her extraordinary tale, and the story is framed by her relationship with her daughter, Tina, who was instrumental in bringing Faye's story to the stage.
Queen of British soul Beverley Knight also played a major part in developing this new female-led show, and she more than honours Faye with her blistering performance, demonstrating her grit, passion, and determination. The Drifters themselves do battle with prejudice, too, sometimes risking their lives while touring in racist American states. And an emotional subplot sees one member struggling with his hidden homosexuality.
The show is a celebration of The Drifters' glorious music, and their success against all odds. But it would also make for a thought-provoking International Women's Day theatre outing, as it looks at how far we've come - and how far we still have to go. Women like Faye should inspire us to keep fighting.
Photo credit: Helen Woolf in Wicked and Beverley Knight in The Drifters Girl (Photos courtesy of productions)
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