10 Inspirational Female Characters in Musical Theatre Part 2.
Last year, I put together a list highlighting some of my favourite inspirational female characters in musical theatre to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. While I only featured ten on the blog, my initial list was much longer. So, I have decided to make this an annual post. Musical theatre is constantly evolving and changing. There is no shortage of wonderful female characters in the world of musical theatre, but every day we are seeing more female stories told centre stage.
Peggy White from The Last Ship
Set in the shipbuilding community of Wallsend in Tyne and Wear, UK, The Last Ship tells the story of a community that rallies together as their livelihood is threatened when the shipyard is at risk of being shut down. Having left town seventeen years ago to avoid being locked into a life in the shipyard, Gideon Fletcher returns to lay his past to rest. Once home, he encounters more ghosts than expected as family and community tensions are on the rise. While the strike rages on, Gideon is once again faced with a decision between family and duty, and a life outside Wallsend.
Peggy White works as a nurse in the shipyard, where her husband, Jackie, is the foreman. The couple are a staple in the tight-knit community, and choose to support the men working in the shipyard when they go on strike. When Jackie passes away at the height of the strike, she takes no more than a moment to gather herself before rallying the women of Wallsend. Peggy and the women form a line to block the police from entering the shipyard, knowing a group of women peacefully protesting will be unlikely to face violent repercussions. This brave move made by this powerful group of women protects the striking workers, giving them the time they need to finish the ship.
Jenna Hunterson from Waitress
Waitress follows the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and pie maker, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant while stuck in an abusive marriage. When a pie baking contest comes to a nearby town, she realizes that she has a chance to build a better life for herself and her unborn child.
Over the course of Waitress, we see Jenna step into her power, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t always strong. We meet her trying to bake her way out of her current situation, but she still carries a steady resilience through the show. With the support and encouragement of her friends, she begins to discover faith in herself and her future. Jenna is a fighter, and even in the darkest moments of her story, holds her own when everything seems to be crumbling down. While maintaining this inner strength, Jenna still leads with warmth and kindness, which might be the bravest thing anyone can do. The birth of her daughter finally gives Jenna the courage she needs to leave her husband, threatening to run him over with her car should he ever come near them ever again.
Marianne Laine from Girl From The North Country
Girl From The North Country is set in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934 and focuses on the community of people residing in a guesthouse owned by the Laine family. Nick Laine is deeply in debt, and cares for his wife, Elizabeth, who has dementia. Their son is a drunk, and their daughter is unmarried and pregnant. Many of the tenants of the guesthouse are struggling through the Great Depression, including a widow awaiting an inheritance, and a couple who have an adult son with the mental age of four. Everyone seems to be teetering on the edge, and the midnight arrival of a bible salesman and a boxer causes everything to begin to slide out of control.
Marianne was adopted into the Laine family after being abandoned at the guesthouse as a baby. Raised primarily by Elizabeth, she is now returning the favour as she acts as not only the primary caregiver to Elizabeth, but in fulfilling her duties around the guesthouse.
Marianne is pregnant and as she is unmarried, is being forced to marry Mr. Perry, a gentleman at least twice her age. Fiercely independent, Marianne refuses, fending off his advances and her father’s insistence.
When Joe Scott, an ex-boxer wrongly convicted of a crime seeks refuge in the guesthouse, he wakes Marianne’s inner romantic and she is forced to choose between love and duty to her family. With the guesthouse crumbling around them, she decides to leave with Joe, putting herself and her child first.
Elizabeth Schyler from Hamilton
Hamilton is a hip-hop musical based on the life, career, and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers. The musical biography follows Hamilton from his arrival in New York City to his death at the hands of Aaron Burr.
Elizabeth Schyler becomes Hamilton’s wife. She’s young and idealistic, just like the young Hamilton, and she is swept away by all of his romantic ideals. While we see Eliza grow up, she holds steadfast to her ideals, and always stands by and believes in her mostly-absent husband. It is only when Hamilton has an affair (and publishes the details of it), Eliza loses faith in him entirely. Despite all of this hurt, she maintains her strength, as well as her kind heart. After Hamilton’s death, Elizabeth spends the rest of her life preserving his legacy and continuing to tell his story. She also opened up New York City’s first orphanage!
Anne Shirley from Anne and Gilbert
The sequel to Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Gilbert tells the story of Anne Shirley all grown-up. After turning down the opportunity to attend university to help take care of the Cuthbert house, Anne begins teaching at the local school in Avonlea. When her nemesis-turned-friend Gilbert Blythe also takes a year off before university, they begin to study together and set the rumour mill of their small town turning.
Anne may be eighteen, but she is still the young girl with a fiery temper that came to Green Gables years ago. She has always been a dreamer, and she has carried that with her into her adult life. Her big dreams of attending university and becoming a writer have been placed on hold to take care of her family. While it’s a sacrifice she makes gladly, she still works hard to be ready for when the opportunity to seize her dreams becomes available.
Sue Snell from Carrie
Carrie follows a similar plot to the original book by Stephen King. It tells the story of Carrie White, a teenager with telekinetic powers, a religious fanatic mother, and a school full of ruthless classmates. A trip to the prom with Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie, which eventually turns into a nightmare when her classmates see another chance to humiliate her. Their prom night prank has deadly consequences when it triggers Carrie’s telekinesis and she unleashes her rage on the entire town.
Sue Snell is trying to do the right thing. Like any teenage girl, she gets sucked into peer pressure when her friends attack Carrie in the locker room. However, she is the only member of the group who feels guilty after the outsider is reduced to tears, and she is determined to make it right. For the rest of the show, Sue works to make it up to Carrie, convincing her popular boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to their senior prom. It is the only kindness shown to the girl over the course of the show, and while Sue knows it doesn’t make up for past cruelty to Carrie, she is determined to give her one special night.
Cosette from Les Miserables
Les Miserables is based off of Victor Hugo’s book of the same name, and covers a large part of French history. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, on his search for redemption after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He skips out on parole after being released from prison, determined to start over and lead a good life. Along the way he meets and saves many people as he avoids recapture by Inspector Javert, a police officer committed to putting him back in jail.
This musical has three very different women as the leading female characters. The plights of Fantine and Eponine are the most discussed and often the most admired for their strength, but Cosette is equally strong. Cosette was left with a family who abused her at a very young age because her mother could not afford to keep her. Eventually, she is adopted by Jean Valjean, who keeps her sheltered to protect his own identity. Cosette has had a hard life, but she is strong and she is kind. So often, kindness is mistaken for weakness, but the ability to be kind and loving in the face of adversity is one of the biggest strengths we can have, and it should be celebrated.
Julia Trojan from Bandstand
Bandstand takes place after the second World War and follows veterans returning to civilian life. Musician Donny Novitski returns and struggles to find performance gigs. When he hears about a contest to write a song for the troops, he gathers a group of musicians who have also recently finished serving their country. The group of veterans support each other, finding that music is one of the few things that eases their PTSD. Eventually, they are joined by singer/songwriter Julia, the widow of Donny’s best friend, who passed away during the war. Together, they work to write music to tell their own stories instead of letting the propaganda speak for them.
Julia has lost a lot. She may not have fought in the war, but losing her husband has taken it’s toll on her. While she honours her husband’s sacrifice and is proud of his service, the loss is still very real and has caused her to distance herself. When she meets Donny, she finds a way not only to honour her husband’s memory, but to begin to heal herself through music. The band helps her move forward, and eventually leads her to gathering the strength to find love again.
Francesca Johnson from The Bridges of Madison County
The Bridges of Madison County is based on the book of the same name which features the epic love story of Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson. It’s a story about how two people from different worlds and circumstances find each other by chance and fall head over heels in love. Robert comes to photograph the covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa. He meets Francesca, a housewife, whose husband is out of town. For one magical week,, the two forge a connection stronger than either of them have ever dreamed of.
Francesca Johnson is content in her steady life in Iowa where she lives with her husband and children, but she has always longed for something more. When Robert Kincaid comes to town, she is reminded of all the dreams she sacrificed long ago for her family and he sweeps her off of her feet. He reminds her of who she is, and they share a romantic week together before her husband returns. Robert does invite Francesca to run away with him, but she decides to remain behind with her family, sacrificing great love to take care of her family.
Fanny Brice from Funny Girl
Funny Girl tells the story of real life star Fanny Brice, following her ascension to stardom and her rocky romance with Nick Arnstein.
Fanny Brice marches to the beat of her own drum and does not take no for an answer. She fights tooth and nail to break into a business which continues to slam doors in her face. Fanny’s drive, ambition and fearlessness lead her to establish a career. Nothing stands in the way of what she wants, both for her career and eventually, for her love life. No matter what life throws at her, she gathers her strength and dives back in head first.
Be sure to leave a female character who inspires you in the comments below!
If you missed last year's piece, you can view it here: