A Girl’s Guide to Broadway: Shows With a Strong Female Lead

As Marymount Manhattan students and New Yorkers in general, we’re totally immersed in theatre culture - whether or not we actually consider ourselves “theatre kids.” If you’ve always been interested in getting into Broadway shows, or you’ve only seen a handful but have been disappointed in the lack of strong female representation, I’m here as your local feminist and theatre nerd to share with you my personal picks for musicals that inspire and empower women with their leading ladies.

 

1. Legally Blonde

Paul Kolnik

 

If you’ve ever seen the film, this is an obvious one. Elle is even more killer in the musical, however, and there’s even stronger themes of female solidarity and girl power. With anthems like “So Much Better” and “Legally Blonde - Remix,” you get to follow Elle on her journey of self-empowerment and learning how to advocate for herself in a field where women feel forced to suppress their femininity to be taken seriously. Also, Emmett is the ideal male ally and the kind of male love interest we can really root for in a musical! 

 

2. Wicked

Joan Marcus

 

Not only are there two incredible female leads in this iconic musical, but they overcome so many struggles together and form an amazing bond as two strong women. They begin competing with each other and hating each other, but in the end, they grow so much and learn so much from each other, as cited in the song “For Good.” Elphaba is an outcast who judges Glinda off the bat for her many privileges as a beautiful, wealthy and popular woman. Glinda judges Elphaba for being an outcast, but together they learn not to put these labels on each other, and they become great friends. There’s a few more challenges they face together outside of overcoming their initial first impressions, but...spoilers!

 

3. Beauty and the Beast

Joan Marcus

Belle is undeniably a feminist icon. In an undeniably misogynistic village, Belle stands out as being “odd” for her exceptional intelligence and her preferred hobby of reading. She’s also insanely brave, exchanging her life and freedom for her father’s. We all know this from the classic 80’s film, but Broadway Belle is a little different: she is quite the spitfire. She not only retains all her amazing qualities from the film of being incredibly smart and studious, she’s confident and completely fearless. She’s not afraid to stick it up to Gaston or even get sassy with him. Sarcasm game? On point. Women may have not been allowed to have much of a voice in the 1700’s, but Belle just sees that as an opportunity to be even louder. And, of course, she’s more than just witty, she’s kind when someone deserves it or needs it. Forgiving and loving a literal beast takes a great deal of empathy, emotional intelligence, and strength, and Belle is up for the task.

 

4. Phantom of the Opera 

Joan Marcus

 

This might be a “hot take” since the themes in this musical are problematic to say the least, but seriously: Christine Daae is exceptionally strong. Although she’s devastated after her father’s death, Christine puts herself to work, dedicating herself entirely to her career in the opera house. A devout student and performer, she dances for the opera while taking voice lessons. She goes through an unfortunate but nonetheless inspiring journey of discovering her own strength through the Phantom taking advantage of her innocence and grief. In “Final Lair,” she stands up to the Phantom calling out his cruelty, brutally honest despite his threatening actions and words in the scene. She literally blocks Raoul’s body with hers at one point, and saves herself and Raoul from the Phantom with her superpower: compassion. Remaining kind in the face of such awful abuse takes an insane amount of strength, and that’s what makes Christine so brave.

 

5. The Sound of Music

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Many might argue that golden age musicals are not the place to look for strong female characters, but Maria is a fantastic example of a woman being her most authentic self, despite what others think. She uses what others find strange or bothersome about her as her superpower. She also literally helps the Von Trapp family escape from Nazis at the end, which is admirable, to say the least. 

 

6. The Little Mermaid 

Joan Marcus

 

Another Disney musical because Disney Princesses are strong as hell! Anyone who tries to reduce Ariel to a bratty teenager with a crush is just wrong. First of all, Ariel wanted desperately to be a human long before Eric was in the picture. And sure, she’s stubborn - but she also gets no support from her father for her dreams. Maybe her decisions were reckless at times, but she’s a dreamer and a doer, and she doesn’t let anyone stop her from finding her place in the world, which she always knew wasn’t under the sea. Whether or not you have fins, any girl can relate to “Part of Your World,” because we all have something in our life we feel is meant for us, and we’ve all faced adversity in our attempts to achieve our dreams.

 

7. Hairspray

Paul Kolnik

 

Tracy Turnblad is an absolute POWERHOUSE. Not only is she an original body positivity icon, she’s an activist and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, whether that be her right to dance on television despite her size, or integration in 1960’s Baltimore. She even gets arrested protesting segregation! Don’t let the fun, cheerful bops from this musical fool you: this is a serious show with seriously important themes of advocacy and inclusivity.

 

8. Anastasia 

Joan Marcus

 

“She’s radiant, and confident, and born to take this chance!” Let’s face it: Anastasia has been through it. Orphaned and suffering from memory loss, she continues to take odd jobs and do whatever she can to earn enough money to follow the only clue she has to figure out who she is: meeting someone in Paris. She’s a fighter, and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself. She has the natural confidence and strength of a queen, which she honestly could be in a literal sense, if she chose to be one...but you’ll have to see the show to learn more on that.

 

9. My Fair Lady

Joan Marcus

 

Eliza is a hero to any “unruly” lady who has lived her life unwilling to comply with the societal standards of etiquette women have forced upon them, despite a clear double standard when compared with the behavior we expect from men. Even while she’s being educated on how to be more proper, she doesn’t let that stop her from being her true self: a woman of incredible wit and humor. She “embarasses” herself at a few social functions, sure, but that only makes people love her more...except for Henry Higgins, who totally takes advantage of her eagerness to learn and sees it as an opportunity to berate and degrade her. Through this, she goes on an incredible journey of self-discovery, and eventually learns that she deserves respect just as much, if not more, than any educated Englishman.