Strong roles for women in 2014 musicals

It’s a common showbiz lament: No good roles for women.

But while there’s always room for improvement in this area, Broadway’s 2014 roster of musicals is jammed with juicy female characters.

They’re all dealing with hard decisions about love, career, marriage, fidelity and faith — and sometimes all at once.

That doesn’t even include plays. This is all on tap in upcoming musicals — new and old — that go beyond sunny tones and simple setups. An impressive array of accomplished actresses are stepping up for stories about choices.

That concept forms the very foundation of the new show, “If/Then,” starting previews March 4. The musical is a contemporary New York story by “Next to Normal” creators Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.

Idina Menzel, a Tony winner for “Wicked,” stars as Elizabeth, a 40-ish city planner the actress has described as “complex, flawed and surprising.”

Borrowing from flowcharts and the Gwyneth Paltrow film “Sliding Doors,” the musical imagines paths Elizabeth’s life could take depending on decisions she makes.

Michelle Williams will play the role of Sally Bowles in the revival of “Cabaret.”

Steve Granitz/WireImage

Michelle Williams will play the role of Sally Bowles in the revival of “Cabaret.”

At the root of “If/Then” is something both simple and profound. Each choice is a gamechanger. Choices liberate and limit.

That idea even resonates in the jukebox show “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” now in previews and opening Jan. 12. Rising star Jessie Mueller plays the title role in the show about King’s life and early career.

By the time she was 17, King was married and writing hit songs for other performers. But was only after King made the hard choice to divorce her husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin that she found her own voice, sang her own songs and found her own global fame.

The choice to stay in a marriage or not beats at the heart of “The Bridges of Madison County,” a musical version of Robert James Waller’s book-turned-film, starting performances Jan. 17.

Four-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara plays the Meryl Streep role of Francesca, a married mother torn between her husband, who’s a fine provider, and a photographer who makes her heart race. The character promises to be one of O’Hara’s meatiest roles.

It was also tailor-made for her talents. Composer Jason Robert Brown wrote the score for O’Hara. Call it Broadway bespoke.

More hard choices and dilemmas await Sutton Foster, who plays the title role in “Violet,” starting previews March 28.

Jessie Mueller as Carole King in “Beautiful”

Joan Marcus

Jessie Mueller as Carole King in “Beautiful”

The 1997 musical by Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori concerns a disfigured woman on a journey to be healed. Suffice it to say, literal and emotional roadblocks get in the way.

Foster has two Tony Awards on her trophy shelf for her peppy tap-happy star turns in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Anything Goes.” “Violet,” seen last summer in a one-night concert version, forces Foster to dig deeper emotionally.

Expect Michelle Williams to dig deep as complicated Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” starting previews March 21. Williams’ emotionally rich work in the movie “Blue Valentine” will come in handy for her portrait of a woman on the edge in this John Kander-Fred Ebb classic.

And don’t forget Marin Mazzie, who’s playing the plum role of Helen Sinclair in a musical take on Woody Allen’s mobster comedy, “Bullets Over Broadway,” starting previews March 11.

Sinclair’s signature line is “Don’t speak.” But the character, an actress of a certain age for which Dianne Wiest won an Oscar, never fails to speak her mind.

“I never play frumps or virgins,” she declares.

It’s a funny line that’s made to get laughs. But it’s also about a woman drawing the line and making choices.

That’s what life — and musicals — are about.

jdziemianowicz@nydailynews.com


Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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