Recently Newsies announced that its rights are open for community theaters to perform. What made this announcement even more special was the knowledge that part of the Newsies ensemble could include females. (Someone needs to give me a couple years to have my baby and get back into tapping shape so I can be in that ensemble but I digress.)
In the community theater world, there’s always talk of gender swapping within shows and roles. This is the first major production I’ve heard of which explicitly allows for the inclusion of females into what has been traditionally a male ensemble. I want to look at some other shows and roles that might benefit from a male to female gender swap. Granted this is just a wishlist, knowing that doing anything like this would require permission first.
My Fair Lady- I propose swapping the genders of Higgins and Eliza. Henry Higgins becomes Henrietta Higgins while Eliza Doolittle becomes Elijah Doolittle (or something to that effect). Suddenly the older, distinguished male professor graciously helping the poor, street urchin may compromise our “traditional” sensibilities. The woman, is now far more educated, distinguished and richer than the man, having control over him, making a crass bet about his appearance, his speech, isn’t what we’re used to believing. How will audiences react to see a woman in complete control with such confidence in herself and her abilities? And to see a man forced to acknowledge his weakness, humble himself to a woman for help?
Boeing, Boeing- For better or worse there’s certain behaviors more tolerated based on gender. Men are given more latitude when dating multiple women at once vs. the other way around. I propose Boeing, Boeing takes the role of Bernard and makes it Barbara. Swap out 2 of the stewardess (now flight attendants) and make them male leaving one as female. Will audiences still see Barbara’s juggling act as comical or will they judge her, a woman, for having confidence in her sexuality and sexual fluidity?
Carousel- This is one show always fraught with issues as physical and emotional abuse run throughout the show. Switching the genders of Julie and Billy while maintaining the storyline will be jarring. Female to male violence isn’t what is typically thought of when you hear spousal abuse. Seeing a woman as a criminal isn’t typically thought of when you hear that term. What will the response be then when James/Julie tells Betty/Billy to stay away from her, that she’s no good? When James hits Betty? When James acknowledges that, “It is possible dear, for someone to hit you, hit you hard, and it not hurt at all.” How would the gender swap change the dynamics of this show?
How would we respond to gender swaps such as these? How would it resonate in 2018?
For me, to see Henry Higgins become Henrietta and to portray a woman in charge of a man’s education will be empowering. In much the same way Bernard becoming Barbara will be empowering. Women don’t often have the chance to fully express their sexual desires and sexual prowess without a negative connotation attached to it. But the definition of “feminism” is for women to reach a point of equality with men which means acknowledging that women have the capability of being just as criminal, physically and emotionally abusive towards men.
So will it be disconcerting to see a woman dying on stage after a botched robbery or will it be about time seeing a woman just as flawed as her male counterparts? Maybe one day we’ll see gender swap versions of these and other shows and we’ll know our feelings.