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World Premiere Of "The Suffragist" Opens Friday In Cedar Falls

The Suffragist opens this weekend, July 16-18, with five performances at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus in Cedar Falls.
The Suffragist opens this weekend, July 16-18, with five performances at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus in Cedar Falls.

The Suffragist opens this July 16 with five performances at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus in Cedar Falls.

The world premiere of the new American musical “The Suffragist” is based on the true story of a dedicated group of women. The principal character is the young mover-and-shaker Alice Paul. Paul, along with Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucy Burns, Inez Milholland, Ida B. Wells, and others, took on the challenge, fought critics, and were key to opening the door for women having the right to vote. Their commitment to the cause and their enthusiastic actions through marches, demonstrations, and oppositions, changed the course of U.S. history.

Cavan Hallman, who pulled together the book and libretti for “The Suffragist” says the plot revolves around Alice Paul and her involvement here in America.

“She’s seen as a young radical -- she’d trained with the militant suffragists in England before she came back to the States and joined the (U.S.) suffragist movement” (Press-Citizen, 2019).

Starring in the tenacious and feisty activist role of Alice Paul is a multi-talented on-and-off Broadway singer, actor, and composer Cathryn Wake. Wake, who can play more than ten musical instruments, and sings like a lark, has made appearances on “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “America’s Got Talent,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” and “Working in the Theatre.” She has likewise appeared on several TV series including “Madame Secretary,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “Glee.” Wake, in at least four world-premiere productions, is known for her innate ability to create new characters. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Pace University, she accepted her Classical Acting Certificate from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

About Carrie Chapman-Catt

Wisconsin born suffragist Carrie Chapman-Catt moved as a child to Iowa with her family in 1866. She was the only woman graduating from her class at Iowa State University, then called the Iowa State Agricultural College. She was known as a fine writer and author, as well as a charismatic speaker with a particularly strategic mind. Her “Winning Plan” not only united both the state and national political parties, but also won then President Woodrow Wilson’s support of women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote in America. The scope of Chapman-Catt’s equal rights for women encompassed women’s rights around the globe and she furthermore worked to instigate world peace.

Kansas-born, Juilliard trained, and Tony-nominated actress Nancy Opel assumes the challenging suffragist character of Carrie Chapman-Catt. Opel’s Broadway career has included roles in the shows: “Evita,” “Teddy and Alice,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Anything Goes,” “Triumph of Love,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Memphis,” “Cinderella,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and the part of Madame Morrible in “Wicked,” to name a few. Off-Broadway, Opel undertook the title role in Washington, D.C. Ford’s Theatre production of “Hello Dolly,” hit the road performing three different characters in a national tour of the rock musical “The Toxic Avenger,” and has made TV appearances on “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” and “Law & Order: SVU.”

Soprano MaKayla McDonald along with jack-of-all-trades, Joel Waggoner, both Waterloo natives and UNI grads, will also assist in the musical celebrating the100-year-old suffragist saga.

McDonald, who completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Vocal Performance at UNI, will present one of the principal roles in “The Suffragist.” On top of singing professionally in New York City, McDonald teaches at the Borough of Manhattan Community College Music and Art Department and tutors at the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. She is a busy recitalist, singing regularly with Calliope’s Call, and in the Compostela Choir at St. James’ Church. She has premiered a film role with the New Camerata Opera, is a member of the “Opera in the 21st Century” with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, sang the role of Micaëla in “Carmen” with the Utopia Opera, presented the title role of “Cendrillon,” and premiered the role of Princess Ursula in “Princess Maleine’ with the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble. With Utopia Opera she also worked closely with celebrated composer Thea Musgrave, premiering the title role in Musgrave’s opera, “The Story of Harriet Tubman.”

McDonald will undertake the role of suffragist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Born as a slave during the Civil War, Wells-Barnett was distinguished as a talented, well-known writer, researcher, and activist. During her lifetime she endured sexism, racism, violence against her workplace, and threats against her safety. While traveling in the US and abroad she talked about America’s practice of white mob violence and lynching. Wells-Barnett founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, which tackled problems dealing with civil rights and the women’s rights movement.

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, music director, arranger, writer, actor, and comedian Joel Waggoner has performed on and off Broadway. After UNI, Waggoner completed his MFA in Musical Theatre Writing at New York University and was a Dramatists Guild Fellow. He served as Director of Music at Pace University, staging numerous shows. He appeared in the Broadway casts of “School of Rock” and “Be More Chill.” Off-Broadway, he performed in “Southern Comfort” and will perform as Ralph in the new musical “Knoxville.” His Instagram hit with co-creator Julia Mattison revolving around Christmas carols and comedy was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Jimmy Kimmel Live! With Ben Platt. His stand-alone songs include: “Empathy” and “Nice Guy”, to name a few. Waggoner’s musical theatre composition credits include “Presto Change-o (book/lyrics by Eric Price), “The Supadupa Kid”, and incidental music to the play “Hester Street.” He founded the Musical Theatre Factory and produced his one-man show, “The Joel Waggoner Experience (Joe’s Pub)”, has sung and played violin on numerous albums, appeared in a music video and produced the single, “Unlikely Warrior.” Waggoner sings the role of President Woodrow Wilson and appears as a doctor in “The Suffragist”.

Other talented suffragists include Inez Milholland sung by Marjorie Gast, Mary Church Terrell performed by Erica Faye, Anna Howard Shaw portrayed by Karla Goettel, Christabel Pankhurst presented by Abby Bastian, and Lucy Burns performed by Dani Schmaltz.

"The Suffragist" Finally Premieres

“The Suffragist” was named after the 1913 Congressional Union for Women Suffrage newspaper published to promote equal rights for women.

“The Suffragist” musical book and lyrics are by Cavan Hallman, with music by Nancy Hill Cobb, under the direction of Rachel Klein. Delayed for 58 weeks, “The Suffragist” debut was originally scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Cobb says while it was tough to wait, it was worth it.

“It was very difficult because throughout the rest of 2020, who knew what would happen. We were 'smack dab in the middle' of the production even though rehearsals had not started yet. I didn't know if we would lose production staff/designers over the time before we knew when we could be up again. I didn't want to lose them because it was such a great team.”

The Suffragist opens this weekend (July 16 to 18) with five performances at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus in Cedar Falls. Tickets are on sale through UNItix at (319) 273-4849 or visit for more information.

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Jacqueline Halbloom is a Sr. Music Producer and Classical Music Host