As part of our continued celebration of 100 years since women’s suffrage and our ongoing series of amazing women and roles in theatre, here’s our pick of five roles the West End is missing.
Mama Rose – Gypsy
Last seen in London portrayed by the incomparable Imelda Staunton in 2015, Mama Rose is the beating heart of Sondheim’s classic musical, Gypsy. Indomitable, pushy and bolshie, she’s unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s a vulnerable side to her, and a need to be loved – and it sure as hell makes for a meaty role for an older woman on stage. Just take a listen to Imelda singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses to get a feel for domineering attitude.
Maureen Johnson – RENT
When RENT hit Broadway in 1996 it changed the shape of the musical theatre landscape. Part of that is down to bisexual performance artist Maureen Johnson – originally played by Idina Menzel – who, despite not appearing until the end of Act One, makes her mark as one hell of a force to be reckoned with. Portrayed by Lucie Jones during 2016/2017’s 20th anniversary tour, we saw new life breathed into this iconic character, and it’d be great to see her back in the West End again.
Jenna Hunterson – Waitress
If you want a girl-power musical, you’d be hard pressed to find something better than Broadway smash Waitress. With songs by singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson, the whole production team behind the show are women and the musical tells an empowering tale of Jenna, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and begins an affair with her gynecologist. Why is she an important role? More than anything, Jenna learns she doesn’t need a man to make her happy, and Waitress becomes a show that celebrates friendship and motherhood.
Eva Peron – Evita
If you’re looking for a musical from the heyday of British musicals, none empower women more than Evita. Eva Peron may not be totally lovable, or even likable at times, but her stage presence and can-do attitude tell a powerful tale of a woman unafraid to stand out from the crowd and to try and make a difference. The show seems to constantly be on tour, and was last seen in the West End in 2017, but a remastered, big budget return proper return could be just the kick of feminine wiles our theatres need.
Diana Goodman – Next to Normal
How Next to Normal has never made it across the Atlantic we’ll never know. Telling the story of a family struggling to cope with the treatment of Diana’s bipolar disorder, Next to Normal also addresses issues like grief, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and the underbelly of suburban life. It’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows, but it’s a stunning piece of modern musical theatre and Diana is a powerful role that runs the whole gamut of human emotions, as Tony Award-winner Alice Ripley demonstrates in the clip below: