History and hip hop come together again for Sylvia, a musical about the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom and a particular leader in the fight: Sylvia Pankhurst.
Sylvia is a brand new musical about Sylvia Pankhurst, a political activist and campaigner for women’s rights in the United Kingdom, with a focus on a pacifistic approach and earning the vote for all women, not just the elite. She was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, who was the one who initially organized the UK suffragette movement and helped women win the right to vote. Their relationship is one of many we watch unfold as we follow the history of the suffrage movement.
Hip hop and R&B are the predominant musical styles of the show which actually works really well. Starting at the opening number I got chills, and that was not the last moment where the music plus the moment made such a strong impact. The act one finale in particular is really powerful and is one I won’t soon forget.
The staging and costumes were very smartly done. The use of the striking graffiti really captures your attention and fits both the hip-hop vibe and the protesting of the movement. The set itself is so simple but molded perfectly to what the scenes required, adding projections to further solidify locations and pivotal moments. The use of color was also so smartly done, with the touches of red to symbolize both the working class and Sylvia’s differences from her mother later on.
One way to describe Sylvia is the women’s suffrage Hamilton. They employ similar musical styles to tell the story, using diverse casts to portray historically white people. But this is still a simplification of what Sylvia is.
One thing that Sylvia does that Hamilton didn’t however is make all of these characters complex, even problematic. This includes our heroine Sylvia, who struggles with balancing her own beliefs and the methods of her movement, having to choose violence over her pacifism because that is what her mother wants. Her mother is a complex character as well, where you agree with her beliefs but not her methods until her truest colors show. And they weren’t afraid to make these historical figures look bad, unlike Hamilton that simply makes a clown of the main antagonist (King George). There are no simple heroes and villains in Sylvia, and that is reality.
We can’t talk about the characters without highlighting the wonderful job the cast does. Sharon Rose was phenomenal as the titular Sylvia. Starring opposite of her as Emmeline Pankhurst for our performance was the understudy Hannah Khemoh who honestly could have been the main casting she was so wonderful and believable. We were under the impression that this was her first performance based on the cast’s excitement for her at bows, so she really knocked it out of the park for her presumably first show. The ensemble was great, and overall you can tell a lot of passion and hard work went in to making this show happen.
Overall, I was happily surprised that I enjoyed Sylvia as much as I did. It is always a gamble to go and see the lesser known or new show, but it really paid off for us this time. I wish there was a cast recording that I could listen to repeatedly and share with you all, but there isn’t one yet. Hopefully, we will get to see Sylvia grow and maybe even come to Broadway.
Sylvia is currently happening at the Old Vic Theatre in London until April 8th, 2023.
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