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Strong Women in Broadway Musicals: What They Teach Us

As a girl growing up with a love for musical theater, it was and still is important for me to familiarize myself with shows that have positive female role models. Whether these women fight against social issues or for love, they all teach us something important about ourselves. There are a ton of musicals out there with insanely strong female leads. If I were to name them all, it would probably take weeks to compile a list, then even longer to write an article. And honestly, no one has the time or energy to read something that long.

So here is a short list of my favorites.

Elle Woods (Legally Blonde)

Elle Woods, a positive, pink-loving gal from LA doesn’t let the harsh criticism of the East Coast get in the way of what she wanted. Even though she spends most of the show trying to win back the boy she thinks she is meant for, she discovers through her pursuit that she is capable of bigger and better things, including a significant other who actually supports her instead of shutting her down. Elle Woods shows me that a girl can flaunt her femininity and still kick ass at her tough career. Girls can be taken seriously too, ya know.

Tracy Turnblad (Hairspray)

I’m acting in this musical currently so, of course, Hairspray and the awesomeness of Tracy Turnblad are fresh in my mind! Living in a world where segregation is rampant and people only accept certain standards of beauty is tough, but Tracy smiles her way through it like a champ. With positive energy radiating from her like the sun, determined Tracy chases down her dream and dances her way onto the Corny Collins Show, forever changing their conservative beauty standards. This same determination for changing the world of beauty brings her right in the middle of the civil rights movement, fighting for the rights of her friends to have the freedom to dance with the rest of the world. Tracy shows us that anyone, no matter what they look like, has the power to fulfill their desires and change the world for the better if they have the determination to stand up.

Elphaba (Wicked)

We all know her as the Wicked Witch of the West, but those who have seen Wicked know her as the girl who was terribly misunderstood. Elphaba went through so much throughout her years leading up to becoming the most hated woman in Oz. From growing up with a father who loved her sister more to being taken advantage of by the world around her, Elphaba knew that the world was against her. However, despite all of that craziness, she knows that she has the power within her to “defy gravity” and embrace who she is. Wicked teaches us so much, from the power of friendship to not judging a book by its cover, but Elphaba teaches us about the power within, and that no matter how dark things may seem, it is up to you to realize your worth.

Maria (West Side Story)

West Side Story takes place in 1957 Manhattan where two gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, roam the streets in competition with one another. Maria, who is part of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, falls in love with Tony, who is part of the white gang, the Jets. Despite the dispute between the two groups, Maria isn’t afraid to love who she wants to love. After Tony’s death, Maria bravely confronts the two gangs about the damage that their hatred for each other has caused. Maria teaches us to follow our hearts and love who we love despite all obstacles.

Angelica Schuyler (Hamilton)

All three sisters are pretty powerful, but Angelica stands out the most for me. As the oldest of the three, she automatically has a lot of responsibility. She even mentions in her famous song, “Satisfied,” that she is expected to marry rich and, since her father has no sons, she’s “the one who has to social climb for one,” which understandably puts her under a lot of pressure. At the Winter Ball, where she meets Alexander Hamilton, she instantly becomes physically and intellectually attracted to him, but upon seeing her helpless younger sister’s face and knowing her social duties, she gives him up to Eliza. It must be absolutely crushing to give up the man you love to your younger sister, but Angelica cares about her sister more than anything else. Angelica teaches us that sometimes we have to be tough and sacrifice our desires for the sake of those we care about.

Hopefully, you see how powerful these characters are as much as I do! Go and see a play — you’ll truly see how powerful some of these women are. 

Katie is a third year English and Theatre/Dance major. She enjoys writing fiction, performing in musicals, and binge-watching episodes of Doctor Who. With her writing, she hopes to inspire laughter, tears, and everything in between.
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