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NEW YORK — When the Shaina Taub musical “Suffs” premiered at the Public Theatre two years ago, covid plagued the company and even led to the cancellation of opening night. But those weren’t really the problem. Rather, the show, about the American suffragists’ fight to win the right to vote for women, suffered from self-inflicted wounds: It was a didactic, dull, overstuffed mess.

That “Suffs” would come back, and on Broadway, too, wasn’t a thrilling prospect. And while it did not magically morph into a great show, Version 2.0 is tighter, more confident, often rousing and downright entertaining. We can only rejoice that the creative team, led by Taub, who wrote the book and score, and director Leigh Silverman, did not back down.

“Suffs” takes place during the few years leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. The show pays particular attention to a group of five real-life militants, led by the tireless Alice Paul (Taub). But Paul is not drawing as much focus as she did in 2022 — the retooled musical is more ensemble-based. This not only reflects the collective aspect of activism but also takes pressure off Taub, whose acting and singing skills are not as sharp as her songwriting ones. (She and most of the cast are returnees.)

Meeting the members of the aforementioned quintet is one of the most compelling parts of the show, because the formation of a crack team always is, whether said team is going to fight a galactic villain, draft a report on Russian interference or fight for equality. Here we have Paul’s stalwart friend Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino), the charismatic lawyer Inez Milholland (Hannah Cruz, a worthy replacement for Phillipa Soo), the budding author Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi) and the socialist firebrand Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck).

“Suffs” now does a better job at incorporating the White activists’ blind spots, most notably their fraught relationship with their Black counterparts, here represented by Ida B. Wells (Nikki M. James) and Mary Church Terrell (Anastacia McCleskey). To placate her Southern donors, for instance, Paul suggests the “colored delegation” should go to the back of a big women’s march on Washington. (The backstage negotiations and compromises taking place before weighty decisions should be all too familiar to one of the show’s producers, Hillary Clinton.)

Tensions within a political side can be fascinating, and in this case they involved Goldilocks arguments about tactics: too fast or too slow? Too much or not enough? While Paul is not nearly radical enough for Wells and Church Terrell, she is a firebrand compared to the older reformist Carrie Chapman Catt (Jenn Colella, a Tony nominee for “Come From Away”), who advocates waiting for the right time to act, which is sure to come … one day. As for the government establishment, it is represented by a goofily dismissive President Woodrow Wilson (Grace McLean), who cannot wait to be rid of those feminist pests.

That’s a lot of people crowding the story and, at times, the stage — though they all look great in Paul Tazewell’s period costumes and under Lap Chi Chu’s dramatic lighting. And none of them gets explored in much depth. A character’s illness is revealed, and next thing you know, she dies. This happens right after Alice Paul pressures her into giving one more speech, but neither Taub’s writing nor her performance suggest Paul’s merciless drive. The show struggles to even suggest the pain and anger these women felt. It’s the more experienced actresses who tend to wring pathos from both the book and the songs, with James burning with a particularly intense flame.

What “Suffs” does capture is the excitement and urgency of being swept up in the fight for a just cause, and discovering yourself and your peers in the process. Among the most striking changes to the score — which has been judiciously edited, overall — is the new number in which the five agitators giddily, proudly declare, “I’m a great American b—-.”

It’s a cheeky act of reclamation, but for the most part “Suffs,” while often very funny, sticks to an earnest, irony-free mode that allows it to fully own a rousing call to arms at the end: “Will you fail or prevail, well, you may never know,” Paul sings. “But keep marching, keep marching.”

Suffs, ongoing at the Music Box Theatre in New York. 2 hours, 30 minutes, including an intermission. suffsmusical.com.



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