‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side
This photo provided by Rubenstein shows Malala Yousafzai pointing to a sign for her off-Broadway musical in New York. (AP)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side

‘Suffs’ musical with Malala, Hillary as producers has timing on its side
  • ‘Suffs’ is a Broadway musical that focuses on the American women’s suffrage movement
  • Pakistani Nobel laureate says musical helped her see her activism from a “new lens“

NEW YORK: Shaina Taub was in the audience at “Suffs,” her buzzy and timely new musical about women’s suffrage, when she spied something that delighted her.
It was intermission, and Taub, both creator and star, had been watching her understudy perform at a matinee preview last week. Suddenly, she saw audience members searching the Wikipedia pages of key figures portrayed in the show: women like Ida B. Wells, Inez Milholland and Alice Paul, who not only spearheaded the suffrage fight but also wrote the Equal Rights Amendment ( still not law, but that’s a whole other story).
“I was like, that’s my goal, exactly that!” Taub, who plays Paul, said from her dressing room later. “Do everything I can to make you fall in love with these women, root for them, care about them. So that was a really satisfying moment to witness.”
Satisfying but sobering, too. Fact is, few audience members know much about the American suffrage movement. So the all-female creative team behind “Suffs,” which had a high-profile off-Broadway run and opens Thursday on Broadway with extensive revisions, knows they’re starting from zero.
It’s an opportunity, says Taub, who studied social movements — but not suffrage — at New York University. But it’s also a huge challenge: How do you educate but also entertain?
One member of the “Suffs” team has an especially poignant connection to the material. That would be producer Hillary Clinton.
She was, of course, the first woman to win the US presidential nomination of a major party, and the first to win the popular vote. But Clinton says she never studied the suffrage movement in school, even at Wellesley. Only later in life did she fill in the gap, including a visit as first lady to Seneca Falls, home to the first American women’s rights convention some 70 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the vote.
“I became very interested in women’s history through my own work, and writing and reading,” Clinton told The Associated Press. And so, seeing “Suffs” off-Broadway, “I was thrilled because it just helps to fill a big gap in our awareness of the long, many-decades struggle for suffrage.”
It was Taub who wrote Clinton, asking her to come on board. “I thought about it for a nanosecond,” Clinton says, “and decided absolutely, I wanted to help lift up this production.” A known theater lover, Clinton describes traveling often to New York as a college student and angling for discounts, often seeing only the second act, when she could get in for free. “For years, I’d only seen the second act of ‘Hair,’” she quips.
Clinton then reached out to Malala Yousafzai, whom Taub also hoped to engage as a producer. As secretary of state, Clinton had gotten to know the Pakistani education activist who was shot by a Taliban gunman at age 15. Clinton wanted Yousafzai to know she was involved and hoped the Nobel Peace Prize winner would be, too.
“I’m thrilled,” Clinton says of Yousafzai’s involvement, “because yes, this is an American story, but the pushback against women’s rights going on at this moment in history is global.”
Yousafzai had also seen the show, directed by Leigh Silverman, and loved it. She, too, has been a longtime fan of musicals, though she notes her own acting career began and ended with a school skit in Pakistan, playing a not-very-nice male boss. Her own education about suffrage was limited to “one or two pages in a history book that talked about the suffrage movement in the UK,” where she’d moved for medical treatment.
“I still had no idea about the US side of the story,” Yousafzai told the AP. It was a struggle among conflicting personalities, and a clash over priorities between older and younger activists but also between white suffragists and those of color — something the show addresses with the searing “Wait My Turn,” sung by Nikki M. James as Wells, the Black activist and journalist.
“This musical has really helped me see activism from a different lens,” says Yousafzai. “I was able to take a deep breath and realize that yes, we’re all humans and it requires resilience and determination, conversation, open-mindedness … and along the way you need to show you’re listening to the right perspectives and including everyone in your activism.”
When asked for feedback by the “Suffs” team, Yousafzai says she replied that she loved the show just as it was. (She recently paid a visit to the cast, and toured backstage.) Clinton, who has attended rehearsals, quips: “I sent notes, because I was told that’s what producers do.”
Clinton adds: “I love the changes. It takes a lot of work to get the storytelling right — to decide what should be sung versus spoken, how to make sure it’s not just telling a piece of history, but is entertaining.”
Indeed, the off-Broadway version was criticized by some as feeling too much like a history lesson. The new version feels faster and lighter, with a greater emphasis on humor — even in a show that details hunger strikes and forced feedings.
One moment where the humor shines through: a new song titled “Great American Bitch” that begins with a suffragist noting a man had called her, well, a bitch. The song reclaims the word with joy and laughter. Taub says this moment — and another where an effigy of President Woodrow Wilson (played by Grace McLean, in a cast that’s all female or nonbinary) is burned — has been a hit with audiences.
“As much as the show has changed,” she says, “the spine of it is the same. A lot of what I got rid of was just like clearing brush.”
Most of the original cast has returned. Jenn Colella plays Carrie Chapman Catt, an old-guard suffragist who clashed with the younger Paul over tactics and timing. James returns as Wells, while Milholland, played by Phillipa Soo off-Broadway, is now played by Hannah Cruz.
Given its parallels to a certain Lin-Manuel Miranda blockbuster about the Founding Fathers, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the show has been dubbed “Hermilton” by some.
“I have to say,” Clinton says of Taub, “I think she’s doing for this part of American history what Lin did for our founders — making it alive, approachable, understandable. I’m hoping ‘Suffs’ has the same impact ‘Hamilton’ had.”
That may seem a tall order, but producers have been buoyed by audience reaction. “They’re laughing even more than we thought they would at the parts we think are funny, and cheering at other parts,” Clinton says.
A particular cheer comes at the end, when Paul proposes the ERA. 
“A cast member said, ‘Who’d have ever thought the Equal Rights Amendment would get cheers in a Broadway theater?’” Clinton recalls.
One clear advantage the show surely has: timeliness. During the off-Broadway run, news emerged the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, fueling a palpable sense of urgency in the audience. The Broadway run begins as abortion rights are again in the news — and a key issue in the presidential election only months away.
Taub takes the long view. She’s been working on the show for a decade, and says something’s always happening to make it timely.
“I think,” she muses, “it just shows the time is always right to learn about women’s history.”


Hoor Al-Qasimi appointed artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney

Hoor Al-Qasimi appointed artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney
Updated 18 May 2024
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Hoor Al-Qasimi appointed artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney

Hoor Al-Qasimi appointed artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney

DUBAI: The Biennale of Sydney announced this week that Emirati creative Hoor Al-Qasimi will become its artistic director for 2026.

The 25th edition of the biennale will run from March 7 to June 8.

Since its inception in 1973, the biennale has grown to become one of the longest-running exhibitions of its kind and was the first biennale established in the Asia-Pacific region.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Al-Qasimi created the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2009 and is currently its president and director. Throughout her career, she acquired extensive experience in curating international biennials, including the second Lahore Biennale in 2020 and the UAE Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

In 2003, she co-curated the sixth edition of Sharjah Biennial and has remained the director of the event since.

Al-Qasimi has been president of the International Biennial Association since 2017 and is also president of the Africa Institute. She has previously served as a board member for MoMA PS1 in New York and the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, among other roles.

She is also the artistic director of the sixth Aichi Triennale, scheduled to take place in Japan in 2025.


Muhammad second most popular name for baby boys in England, Wales

Muhammad second most popular name for baby boys in England, Wales
Updated 17 May 2024
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Muhammad second most popular name for baby boys in England, Wales

Muhammad second most popular name for baby boys in England, Wales
  • Name ‘has soared in popularity in recent times’: Daily Mail
  • Layla, Maryam, Yusuf, Fatima, Musa, Ibrahim among popular Arabic names

LONDON: Muhammad was the second most popular name for baby boys in England and Wales in 2022, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The Daily Mail reported on Friday that the Arabic name “has soared in popularity in recent times,” having ranked 20th in 2012.
Variations of the name’s spelling, Mohammed and Mohammad, were also among the top 100 most popular baby boys’ names in 2022, ranked 27th and 67th respectively.
Other popular Arabic names for baby boys were Yusuf (93rd), Musa (99th) and Ibrahim (100th).
In the girls’ list, Layla ranked 56th, Maryam 75th and Fatima 99th.


India’s butter chicken battle heats up with new court evidence

India’s butter chicken battle heats up with new court evidence
Updated 17 May 2024
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India’s butter chicken battle heats up with new court evidence

India’s butter chicken battle heats up with new court evidence
  • Two Indian restaurant chains have been sparring since Jan. at Delhi High Court, both claiming credit for inventing the dish
  • The lawsuit that has grabbed the attention of social media users, food critics, editorials and TV channels across the globe

NEW DELHI: With new photographic and video evidence, an Indian court battle over the origins of the world famous butter chicken is set to get spicier.
Two Indian restaurant chains have been sparring since January at the Delhi High Court, both claiming credit for inventing the dish in a lawsuit that has grabbed the attention of social media users, food critics, editorials and TV channels across the globe.
The popular Moti Mahal restaurant chain said it had the sole right to be recognized as the inventor of the curry and demanded its rival, the Daryaganj chain, to stop claiming credit and pay $240,000 in damages. Moti Mahal said founder Kundan Lal Gujral created the cream-loaded dish in the 1930s at an eatery in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, before relocating to Delhi.
That “story of invention of butter chicken does not ring true” and is aimed at misleading the court, Daryaganj said in a new, 642-page counter-filing reviewed by Reuters.
Daryaganj says a late member of its founding family, Kundan Lal Jaggi, created the disputed dish when he helmed the kitchen at the relocated Delhi eatery, where Gujral, his friend-cum-partner from Peshawar only handled marketing.
Both men are dead, Gujral in 1997 and Jaggi in 2018.
Evidence in the non-public filing includes a black-and-white photograph from 1930s showing the two friends in Peshawar; a 1949 partnership agreement; Jaggi’s business card after relocating to Delhi and his 2017 video talking about the dish’s origin.
By virtue of the friends’ partnership, “both parties can claim that their respective ancestors created the dishes,” Daryaganj says in the filing, calling the dispute a “business rivalry.”
Moti Mahal declined to comment. The judge will next hear the case on May 29.
A key point of contention, which the court will have to rule on, is where, when and by whom the dish was first made — by Gujral in Peshawar, Jaggi in New Delhi, or if both should be credited.
Butter chicken is ranked 43rd in a list of world’s “best dishes” by TasteAtlas, and bragging rights about who invented it can matter, brand experts said.
“Being an inventor has a huge advantage globally and in terms of consumer appeal. You are also entitled to charge more,” said Dilip Cherian, an image guru and co-founder of Indian PR firm Perfect Relations.
Moti Mahal operates a franchisee model with over 100 outlets globally. Its butter chicken dishes start at $8 in New Delhi, and are priced at $23 in New York.
Late US President Richard Nixon and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru are among the famous clients to have visited its primary outlet in Delhi.
Daryaganj started in 2019 and its butter chicken costs $7.50. It has 10 outlets, mostly in New Delhi, with plans to expand to other Indian cities and Bangkok.
In its 2,752-page Indian lawsuit, Moti Mahal had also accused Daryaganj of copying “the look and feel” of the interiors of its outlets.
Daryaganj has retorted with photographs of restaurant interiors which the judge will review, claiming it is Moti Mahal that has copied its “design of floor tiles.”


Tima Abid’s ‘sea-spired’ collection opens first Red Sea Fashion Week

Tima Abid’s ‘sea-spired’ collection opens first Red Sea Fashion Week
Updated 17 May 2024
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Tima Abid’s ‘sea-spired’ collection opens first Red Sea Fashion Week

Tima Abid’s ‘sea-spired’ collection opens first Red Sea Fashion Week
  • Beadwork, satin used to mimic waves, gleaming glints on water
  • Designer lauds support of Culture Ministry, Fashion Commission

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia designer Tima Abid opened the first Red Sea Fashion Week on Thursday with bridal wear inspired, or perhaps sea-spired, by the effervescent colors and tides of the ocean.

Backdropped by the glistening and clear turquoise waters of the St. Regis Red Sea Resort on the developing Ummahat Al-Sheikh island, Abid showcased luxurious, elegant and intricately-designed evening wear.

Abid incorporated sheer chiffon, micro ruffles, and malleable fabrics to mimic an underwater experience. (Arab News)

The Jeddah-born haute couture designer told Arab News: “When I was told that I would inaugurate Red Sea (Fashion) Week at the St. Regis and by the sea, it was a beautiful idea but very challenging. I was inspired for this collection by the Red Sea and its shades of sand. I used pearls, fishnets, and elements derived from the sea like the waves. I really aimed for couture to align with the mood that we’re in.”

Abid incorporated sheer chiffon, micro ruffles, and malleable fabrics to mimic an underwater experience.

(Arab News)

Embroidered white gowns incorporating delicate beadwork and sequins on sumptuous fabrics such as elevated fishnet and satin were subtly nods to the softness of waves and prominence of fishing culture on the coast.

But the intricate and sharp designs also suggested the strength and sureness of crashing waves. As air does for sea, the silky silhouettes drifted in the wind, creating an ocean swell-like appearance. Speckled in jewels, the pieces resembled the gleaming glints on water.

Bejeweled gloves, capes, veils, and draping fringed neck pieces married traditional and contemporary bridal wear. (Arab News)

Cream and beige looks also made it out to the dock-turned-runway, featuring chic feathered accents and unconventional fabrics that mimicked the Kingdom’s coral reefs. Bejeweled gloves, capes, veils, and draping fringed neck pieces married traditional and contemporary bridal wear while also taking inspiration from the ocean’s sea creatures.

Cream and beige looks also made it out to the dock-turned-runway. (Arab News)

Several well-known guests, which included TV presenter Lojain Omran and actress Mila Al-Zahrani, were all front row for the latest collection from Abid — whose meticulous attention to detail has birthed creations that incorporate deep sentiment and luxurious elegance for nearly two decades.

“I can’t thank the Ministry of Culture and the Fashion Commission enough for this opportunity and this trust. This inauguration is truly historic for me,” Abid said.


Saudi pop star Mishaal Tamer feels ‘honored and grateful’ ahead of sold-out London gig

Saudi pop star Mishaal Tamer feels ‘honored and grateful’ ahead of sold-out London gig
Updated 17 May 2024
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Saudi pop star Mishaal Tamer feels ‘honored and grateful’ ahead of sold-out London gig

Saudi pop star Mishaal Tamer feels ‘honored and grateful’ ahead of sold-out London gig
  • Singer tells Arab News his fans in the city have a special place in his heart but he owes his success to people all over the world who have embraced his music
  • He says his debut album, “Home is Changing,” out in October, is a tribute to the changes and reforms that have swept through the Kingdom in recent years

LONDON: Saudi singer Mishaal Tamer said he feels honored to be performing his first headline show outside Saudi Arabia in London and is grateful to his fans there for their support.

Speaking to Arab News ahead of his sold-out gig on Friday at Camden Assembly, a live music venue and nightclub in Chalk Farm, Tamer said his fans in London will always have a special place in his heart.

“The people attending the show in London have been with me from before the starting line and I really appreciate that,” he said of the 220 people who will attend the event. “I will love those people forever and they will be in my heart forever.”

Tamer also thanked his fans in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world, saying he owes his success as an independent artist to them.

“The kids that are back home and the ones abroad that have found me have been supporting me,” he said. “This would be impossible without them. I am grateful to the fans for listening to the music and sharing it.

He told how he was approached by two fans in a restaurant after arriving in the UK, which helped him realize how his profile was growing.

“One of them was Saudi, the other wasn’t,” Tamer said. “When I looked at that, it made me realize that not only was this bigger than I expected for me, as an artist, but that what we’re doing is bigger than me.”

His debut album, “Home is Changing,” is due for release in October and he said it is a tribute to the changes and reforms that swept through the Kingdom in recent years.

“There are so many opportunities that keep popping up, so many cool new things,” he added. “People have the freedom and creativity to make the world around them and the environment around them, to shape it into what they see in their heads.

“It feels almost like every other country is decaying whereas the Kingdom is growing and that feeling makes me proud.”

The evolution of Saudi Arabia “sets an example of always being hopeful for the future and having a positive attitude,” Tamer said. “And I think the optimism that we have right now in the Kingdom is a beautiful thing.”