Mother’s Day is just around the corner and in anticipation of that, I thought I’d spend a little time exploring more of my current type and research musical theatre mom roles that I could someday play. The last time I was onstage, I was morphing out of the ingenue type and then I had two kids and got over it for awhile. Kid2 is about 21 months old now and with her newfound independence, I find myself with just a little bit more time to devote to my old friend, musical theatre.
This list of musical theatre mom roles on Broadway is far from exhaustive, highlighting just 15 of almost 100 “motherly” characters (that I have found so far) spanning the last 30 years.
The motivations and themes for the following characters range from (upon my own analysis) mental illness, postpartum depression, self-sacrifice, anxiety, and always, at the heart of every mother, deep and endless love.
Hopefully this list helps you if you are transitioning types or just need some material to connect with after having kids. Cuz well…if you know, you know.
(Just so you are aware, there are some spoilers in some of these descriptions)
The Baker’s Wife from INTO THE WOODS
One of the most complex characters in all of musical theatre, The Baker’s Wife is a “bucket list” role for many actresses, myself included. She is desperate for a child, and later, desperate for some excitement in her life – a sentiment that many mothers (myself included) can absolutely relate to.
Bloody Mary from SOUTH PACIFIC
South Pacific is probably my favorite musical from the Golden Age of Broadway. It was my first professional show (and my FIRST actual show!) and it holds a dear place in my heart. I’ve come to realize that Bloody Mary is a darker character than I had originally thought. Hustling the Seabees on the beaches, she sells everything from grass skirts to “schlunken heads” to her own daughter, though not without good cause.
Diana from NEXT TO NORMAL
Having experienced the immeasurable loss of a child, Diana’s journey through her subsequent mental illness is one that I am terrified to take. Reacquainting myself with her story made my heart nearly stop, especially when realizing that the child that died had an illness the doctors didn’t catch.
Donna from MAMMA MIA!
Business owner and former professional singer (sounds familiar…), Donna has admirably chosen to raise her daughter Sophie alone. As Sophie’s wedding approaches, Donna faces the heartbreaking challenge of letting go.
Edna Turnblad from HAIRSPRAY
Traditionally played by a male actor, Edna’s lack of social interaction has contributed to her anxiety. She hardly ever leaves the house and constantly projects her worries onto her daughter. #totallyrelatableduringapandemic
Fantine from LES MISERABLES
Who among us didn’t want to be Eponine in Les Mis growing up? Well, that ship has sailed faaaaaaar too long ago for me, but I’m hanging on to one day playing Fantine. As I write this, we are in the throes of a pandemic and thinking of a mother who sends her child to live elsewhere for her well being while she dies alone from A RESPIRATORY DISEASE is giving me too much anxiety right now. Might be too soon, for me.
Heidi Hansen from DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Anyone who has ever had a parent choose work over “being there” for their child can relate to Evan’s feelings towards Heidi. She tries so hard to connect with her son, but falls short. Latchkey kids from the 80’s and 90’s feel this so hard, but as a parent I feel more forgiving towards my own upbringing. It still sucks, but I get it.
Kim from MISS SAIGON
Oh, my dear heart, my dream role. One I got to play just twice. If there is any role that will test an actor’s stamina, it is this one. With the emotional wreckage this role leaves you with, I am terrified to think of how it would have been like to play this role after becoming a mother. My friend Lora played this role not long after her son was born and she said she had nightmares that mirrored the show!
Lily from THE SECRET GARDEN
I loved this book growing up, and the musical is just SO lovely. Lily’s beloved garden is locked after she dies in an accident while she was pregnant, though her child survived but is disabled and rejected by his father because he looks just like her, obviously (why, uggghh!!!). Lily watches over her son and husband from the great beyond and sings two of the most gorgeous melodies I have ever heard.
Mama Rose from GYPSY
The ultimate stage mom. Super ultimate. She allegedly killed several people, and attempted to murder her future son-in-law for getting in the way of her plans for her daughter June. Why isn’t there a true crime documentary on her? I WOULD WATCH THAT.
Margaret White from CARRIE
Terrifyingly religious, controlling, and mentally unstable, truly a horrific woman, co-dependent and horribly abusive to her daughter Carrie who was conceived from marital rape. Disgusting and pitiful and so much awfulness rolled up into one person. What a gratifying feat it would be to find any likability in this character.
Mrs. Johnstone from BLOOD BROTHERS
The idea of separating twins is absolutely gutting. It hurts so hard to dwell on the circumstances that would drive a mother to do it, but I understand. To guarantee a life of privilege for at least one of your children coupled with a financial windfall to support the rest of your family… what a wretched, yet necessary choice to have to make.
The Witch from INTO THE WOODS
One of the golden roles on my list, The Witch is more than just an evil woman who curses people and kidnaps children. Much like the rest of us, her front is self-serving and vain but we learn that she too, has difficulty watching her child grow up and become a person of her own.
Winifred Banks from MARY POPPINS
A former actress (talk about relatable, hello), Winifred battles the insecurities that she isn’t “enough” of a wife or mother due to her husband’s comparison of her to his nanny, Miss Andrew, whom he believes raised him perfectly. Well, perfect doesn’t exist, George!! No wonder your wife is depressed all the time, you dick.
Sarah from RAGTIME
There is so much to explore with Sarah. It is an opportunity for any actress to explore the deepest darkness that would lead a mother to bury their child in a garden. Despite what Tom Cruise says, post partum psychosis is a very real, and very serious mental illness that can lead to the worst possible outcomes. This is a role I will never have a chance to play, and all the more power to the women who have it in their bucket list.
IMPORTANT: If you think you may be suffering from any form of postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, or if you need support, please call the Postpartum International hotline at 1-800-944-4773.
This list will grow over time! In the meanwhile, let me know in the comments if there are any musical theatre mother roles you’d like to see included!
Who is your musical theater mother dream role and why? I’d love to know!