Broadway’s ‘Suffs’ Disrupted When Activists Unfurl Sign Calling The Tony-Winning Musical A “White Wash”

Last night’s performance of the Broadway musical Suffs, the two-time Tony-winning musical about the suffragist movement written by Shaina Taub that counts Hillary Clinton among its producers, was briefly disrupted when a group of self-identified “radical, anti-racist, queer feminists” unfurled a banner from box seats near the stage.

During the performance, as a banner with the words “Suffs Is A White Wash” was unfurled, what appeared to be several protesters in the box seats loudly chanted that slogan and added “cancel Suffs.” Based on cellphone video of the incident, the disruption seems to have last about 15 to 20 seconds before the protesters were ushered out of the box seats by theater staff without incident and the banner taken down.

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As the banner was removed, a theater staffer announced over the venue’s sound system that the performance would take a brief pause.

The disruption was the second for a Broadway show in the last four months: On March 15, the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion brought An Enemy of the People, starring Jeremy Strong and Michael Imperioli, to a temporary halt with chants of “No theater on a dead planet.”

The banner unfurled at Suffs included a website for the activist group, a website devoted solely to criticizing what it says is the musical’s “whitewashed, slanted, and ultimately dangerous version of history.”

According to the website, “The whitewashing in the show is a dangerous lie because it reinforces several ideas: that the suffrage movement wasn’t deeply racist, that white women’s stories are more worthy of taking center stage, and that white women are always aligned with progressive causes.”

In fact, Suffs deals explicitly with those issues, with one of the musical’s major dramatic conflicts arising when Alice Paul, the white suffragist (played by Taub) who organizes a major protest march in 1913 demanding women be given the right to vote, is informed that Southern delegations of the marchers will withdraw from the event if Black suffragists are allowed to join in.

Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells and ‘Suffs’ Company
Nikki M. James as Ida B. Wells and ‘Suffs’ Company

The Paul character begrudgingly compromises by relegating Black marchers to their own delegation at the back of the march. Her decision prompts an emotional confrontation with activist and African-American journalist Ida B. Wells, a character whose song “Wait My Turn” is one of the highlights of the Tony-winning score.

The significant role that racism played in the suffragist movement, and the contributions made by Black woman to the voting rights cause, is a prominent storyline in Suffs, as depicted through the Wells character and Black activist Mary Church Terrell.

The show’s producers and creative team declined to respond specifically to the group’s complaints, with a production representative releasing a brief statement to Deadline saying, “We can confirm this incident happened at last night’s performance of Suffs, and at no point was the safety of any company members or patrons at the Music Box Theatre compromised.”

Suffs opened on Broadway on April 18 at the Music Box, receiving overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, 6 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, and winning two (Best Book and Best Score).

The musical has consistently drawn strong box office numbers, with attendance routinely at or near sell-out.

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