Hannah Cruz
Hannah Cruz

Hannah Cruz’s Broadway Debut in Suffs Is Part of Her Best Year Yet

To say it’s Hannah Cruz’s year would be an understatement.

The actress, who recently starred Off-Broadway in The Connector at MCC Theater, is not only making her long-awaited Broadway debut in Suffs at the Music Box Theatre, but she’s also getting married this summer.

It’s certainly a lot to navigate, never mind all the exciting opportunities that come with her job. She’s also juggling press interviews, purple carpets, and photo shoots with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, coproducers of Suffs.

“Every week comes with a new, really momentous occasion, which is a lot of adrenaline to handle,” Cruz told Broadway Direct over a video call prior to opening night.

Hannah Cruz of <i>Suffs</i>. Photo by Justin Patterson, Hair & Makeup by Emily Katz.
Hannah Cruz of Suffs. Photo by Justin Patterson, Hair & Makeup by Emily Katz.

Suffs, short for suffragists, is a new based-on-historical-events musical by Shaina Taub. It focuses on women’s rights activist Alice Paul (played by Taub) as she rallies for women’s right to vote in America in the early 1900s. Cruz plays Inez Milholland, a lawyer who was a socialist and socialite during the woman suffrage movement. “She’s interesting because she was very self-centered,” Cruz said of her character. “Her beauty was what got her on the covers of all the newspapers and got all the men to listen to her. She knew that, and she used it.”

Cruz’s journey to the role is a unique one. She originally played Ruza Wenclawska, a Russian suffragist, during Suffs’s Off-Broadway premiere at The Public Theater. After the show ended, director Leigh Silverman asked Cruz to play Milholland in a workshop as a “trial period” while simultaneously starring in MCC’s Only Gold. Cruz says it was difficult at first to do a scene opposite Kim Blanck as Ruza, who was saying lines Cruz used to say. Eventually, she settled into it.

Her process of getting into character might have helped the situation. “I do a lot of research on my own, especially when I’m playing a real person. I try to immerse myself as much as possible in that world.” Now, even during the run and in between some longer breaks backstage, Cruz continues reading one of Milholland’s biographies by journalist and professor Linda Lumsden.

Kim Blanck as Ruza Wenclawska and the Suffs Company.
Nadia Dandash, Shaina Taub, Kim Blanck, Ally Bonino, and Hannah Cruz perform “Great American Bitch” in Suffs. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It was also during the workshop where Taub added the rousing song “Great American Bitch,” sung by the core group of suffragists in the musical, including Paul, Wenclawska, and Milholland. “It’s some of the most fun you can have to be able to do a really joyful number with your girlfriends,” Cruz said with excitement. “We don’t have a lot of songs like that in the musical-theater canon. It’s the most fun part of the show. We just keep pouring the ginger ale until they stop clapping.”

Unnerving yet “fascinating” to Cruz is how few people have heard about these real-life heroes and the parts they played in American history. “I don’t know why we don’t know [Milholland],” Cruz said. “We know so little about the suffrage movement because I think we take it for granted now that we can vote. I don’t understand why we’re not taught it.”

She references Hamilton, a show she once toured with and where she met her fiancé, Edred Utomi, also an actor. “Shaina’s in it and Shaina wrote it,” she said, alluding to the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in Hamilton, like Taub in Suffs. “It’s about a part of our American history that maybe we don’t know so much about, and it’s almost entirely sung-through. I can totally see the parallels.”

Hannah Cruz as Inez Milholland and the Suffs Company.
Hannah Cruz and the cast of Suffs. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In addition to Hamilton, Cruz also toured with productions of Bullets Over Broadway and Legally Blonde when she was 18 years old. That’s how she cut her teeth in the business right out of high school. Growing up in Newtown, Connecticut, Cruz started performing in middle school. Her parents would take her to see Broadway shows all the time. They always had records playing in the house, including music by Patsy Cline and Gloria Estefan. Cruz has memories of seeing Beauty and the Beast and Aida. “We listened to [the Aida] cast album an insane amount,” she recalls.

On the back of the door of her childhood bedroom hung dozens of understudy slips from Playbills. In photo albums she kept pictures of stars at the stage door, including Megan Hilty and Stephanie J. Block after 9 to 5, Matt Doyle, current Merrily We Roll Along star Jonathan Groff (who Cruz has since done script readings with), and Lea Michele, “who I’ve never met but it’s so funny to me,” she said, looking back at her fangirl days.

Hannah Cruz of <i>Suffs</i>. Photo by Justin Patterson, Hair & Makeup by Emily Katz.
Hannah Cruz of Suffs. Photo by Justin Patterson, Hair & Makeup by Emily Katz.

It’s a nice reflection of how it started versus how it’s going now, as she finally takes her Broadway bow after performing professionally for more than a decade.

“I’ve worked really hard for it,” Cruz said of the 14 years it took to get to this place in her career. “I’m glad that I’m older and understand myself more. I’m proud that this is the show that I’m making my Broadway debut in.”

From here it’s a straight shot toward “the finish line.”

“I haven’t even been able to conceptualize the fact that I’m getting married this year because so much else is happening before that is happening.”

You can catch Cruz in Suffs, now playing at the Music Box Theatre.

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