Tony-nominated Nancy Opel joins the cast of 'The Suffragist,' an Iowa-made musical
In lieu of a full musical production Wednesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment's ratification, producers of "The Suffragist" announced the new Iowa-made musical will star Tony-nominated actress Nancy Opel as Carrie Chapman Catt in the musical's world premiere next summer.
"The Suffragist" is a new musical production from Nancy Hill Cobb, a former University of Northern Iowa instructor, with book and lyrics from Cavan Hallman, the founder of Cedar Rapids' Mirrorbox Theatre.
Opel's Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress stemmed from her performance as Penelope Pennywise in the 2001 musical "Urinetown." Her other Broadway credits include "Evita," "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Wicked." She's also appeared on T.V. in episodes of "Law & Order" and its spin-offs.
"She found that she liked our script and she wanted to do it," Hill Cobb, the show's creator and composer, recalled this past July before the news became official. "We were literally in the final stages of negotiation and then Broadway shut down.”
Thankfully, despite Broadway's shutdown and the interruption of live entertainment across the nation due to the ongoing pandemic, Opel maintained interest in the production.
► Making a musical during COVID-19: 'The Suffragist' musical marches to 2021 with director in place after delay due to COVID
“The narrative that we focus on is primarily about Alice Paul," Hallman told the Press-Citizen in 2019. "She’s seen as a young radical — she’d trained with the militant suffragists in England before she came back to the states and joined the (U.S.) suffragist movement.”
Iowans, however, will likely be more familiar with Paul's fellow suffragist — the role to be brought to life by Opel — 1880 Iowa State graduate Carrie Chapman Catt. During the play's early 1900s setting, Catt represents a less radical viewpoint, when compared with Paul.
Originally, "The Suffragist" was scheduled to open on June 5 at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa's campus in Cedar Falls. But concerns related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, caused the production to be rescheduled for July 17-19, 2021, for the safety of the cast, crew and audience.
“As a storyteller in a world turned upside down, I am grateful to be working on a piece about significant, necessary change. It's an honor to be working with Nancy Opel on this vital story from history," the production's director, Rachel Klein, said in a release Tuesday. "She's an incredible talent and a thoughtful actor, and I have no doubt that her performance will inspire and educate audiences about this campaign, fought before our time.”
► How the show came to be: Making musical history with 'The Suffragist'
Other historical figures of the women's suffrage movement, including Ida B. Wells, Lucy Burns and Inez Milholland, are said to appear as characters in the show. The casting for Alice Paul has yet to be announced.
Hallman and Hill Cobb had said that their hope was to cast a seasoned Broadway performer as Catt with a young up-and-comer as Paul. With the announcement of Opel's casting, the team is closer than ever fulfilling their vision.
“After working on this musical as a composer for four and a half years, it’s extremely thrilling to announce this casting,” Hill Cobb said in the press release. “I hope that women and men everywhere remember how hard-fought the right to vote was, and how important it is to continue to honor the women of the past by casting our votes every election we can. It wasn’t that long ago that this right was denied to so many. Showing up at the polls at every election ensures their fight was not in vain.”
Tickets for the show, starting at $19 with special rates available for large groups, are scheduled to go on sale on March 1, according to the release.
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