By Sarah Downs
I had the great pleasure of zoom-meeting the two talented women at the helm of Moms: the Musical, which will be live-streamed on July 24th at 2:00 p.m. Kelly Surette, who composed and wrote the book for the show, and Victoria Rae Sook, its Director, are not only charming and multi-talented, they are also exemplary advocates for the lives and experiences of women, and for more opportunities for women in theater. They embrace a kind of female empowerment that is inclusive and diverse.
The story of Moms is of two unlikely friends, from different backgrounds, approaching motherhood and its uniquely American baggage, for the first time. As Kelly Surette describes the show: “It’s got its really hilarious moments but it’s also a really poignant show that really looks to honestly represent and celebrate women and mothers. It’s really that microcosm of the first two three months where your whole world has been thrown upside down and these women are trying to figure it out. “Who am I, now that I am a mother. Do I have to give up myself? What parts of myself can I hold on to.”
SD – How long have you been working on Moms?
Kelly Surette – I started last August, September writing this show, so a little less than a year. We did a pandemic demo – a ‘pan-demo’ – and then realized it needed to be a workshop.
SD – Wow, you have been moving at lightning speed!
KS – For the workshop we have completely recast with brand new performers. These women are going to blow you away. This was a particularly tough show to cast because we wanted to find unique and different women to live these stories, and there were so many options. We only had 8 roles – 6 women and 2 men, and we had hundreds of submissions.
Victoria Rae Sook – Something that really drew me to the piece is that it’s a story of motherhood and a story of women, real women, diverse women, women of all ages. So yes, we have cast incredible performers, but they are also real women, who come from many different intersectional backgrounds.
KS – It was important to me to write a show that emphasizes the age group of women over 30, because we don’t see this age group in the stage. They’re always the best friend, or the supporting role but they’re the never the leads.
SD – Victoria, have you been discussing with the cast their ideas about their respective roles?
VRS – It’s always my philosophy that where a character lives is halfway between the Director’s idea and the actor’s idea. I never want anyone to be a puppet of what I think. You sort of have to lead them to the helm. We’ve scheduled character discussions to build up to our first rehearsal, so their characters can begin to come alive – whether it’s a gay mother, or a single mother, or a mother who is super into it, or a mother who doesn’t really take to it right away – we have all these different kinds of mothers in the show. Of course, we’re never going to be able to capture all of the different moms out here, but Kelly has written these beautiful different stories that will resonate with the audience. Women will be able to look on the stage and identify with any of these characters.
KS – We even have a mother who has been sort of put out to pasture. She’s the mother-in-law who is like, ‘I’m still a mother, but you don’t need me anymore’ and I think that is also cool.
SD – I hadn’t thought of that. There are so many layers to how we as identify as women – what defines us, especially once we have children.
KS – That’s totally what we explore. I remember having my first child and thinking “where am I; I’m gone” and some women are like “I am found.” There’s this total dichotomy that happens to women, but we don’t talk about it; we don’t really address it. We kind of have to experience it in the loneliness of those first couple of months.
VRS – This musical is special in that it has two truly lead female characters. They could not be more different, but they end up really pushing each other up, and helping one another. It blew my mind. The first time I saw the perusal script, I was like “I HAVE to direct this show! I have to make these women come alive!” There are amazing shows by and about men, and I have directed a fair number of them, but it has been so incredible to be in a collaborative environment with a woman making a show about women. We need more of this in theater.
SD – YES!
KS – We also touch on the role of social media and how it affects how some women define themselves through “mom groups” and pinterest, etc. Even the mother-in-law feels pressure to “measure up.” I see these things on Facebook, you know, this woman up the street who is like the angel of mothers, making hands-on learning science experiments and I’m lucky if my girls eat the Cheeze-its out of the box. I don’t know how these women are doing it. I also just don’t have the draw to that, yet I feel as if I should; that’s what society puts on you. It’s why I wrote the show. I felt like, “they’re telling me all these things that I’m you are supposed to feel and supposed to experience, and I’m not experiencing any of this. And I’m not the only one. Why aren’t we talking about that?” And what better way to teach about it, to talk about it, than in musical theater?
SD – I agree. Musical theater has such an enduring appeal, and this show is also so approachable. The music for your show is authentic, modern musical theater, and of course the diversity of characters means there is something for everyone. It also strikes me as very family friendly – you know, ‘bring the kids!’
KS – That was Victoria’s intention all along.
VRS – Yes, it was something I talked about with Kelly in my very first interview. This is a show that could be so accessible. Mothers with small children could actually go to the theater. You know, turn the men’s rooms into changing tables and nursing stations for a day! I see even multi-generational outings to the show. There are these beautiful relationships between these new moms and their own mothers. There is something for everyone to relate to. It’s not exclusive in any way.
SD – I love this idea of acknowledging a sector of the population or the culture that is kind of taken for granted.
KS – Yes, you know, I look out my window, with the women walking by with their strollers, and I want to tell them. I’m seeing you. I see that your toddler is having that temper tantrum; I see you in the grocery store trying to calm your baby down; I see you, I see you, I see you. That’s what I hope this musical will do across the country, is to help these mothers feel seen.
SD – That is a powerful message.
SD – You both have had impressive, successful careers. Was theater something you both always wanted to do?
KS – Oh yes. I’ve been doing theater since I was a child. I went to Boston Conservatory for musical theater, but I always knew I wanted something more as well. I fell in love with writing about 10 years ago and I started creating stories. I guess I sort of started taking myself more seriously in my 30’s. I’m constantly reading; I work on piano every day; I talk to anyone I can; I podcast. I look at myself as in a graduate program of my own design.
And as much as it has been difficult – I will say certain people in my life are like ‘why are you pursuing this dream.’’ ‘You’re supposed to be home taking care of your kids.’ — when I look at my two daughters I feel that I’m giving them the example that I want them to have. So that they know, even if they have two kids and are going on 35, and you’re ‘supposed’ to be in this certain place, you can still go after what you want.
SD – So theater is in your blood.
VRS – Yes, definitely for me. I started dancing when I was like three, and I never really quit. it was all I ever wanted to do. My Mom was an English teacher, so I got the Shakespeare from her and the ballet from there, and I never really stopped. I went to Chicago College of the Performing Arts and then I got a job at Disney World. I finished college at the University of South Florida while I was performing with the Walt Disney Company. Then it was straight to New York! I’ve been an actor and a director. I’ve worked hard but – as my grandmother always said ’the harder you work the luckier you get’ – and I feel like that’s what I have been in this business. It’s very much who I am.
KS – When we had had our live callbacks, the first time since the pandemic, and for these actors It had been their first live audition in a year – I can’t explain it to you – watching all these incredibly talented performers singing my music. I just sat there and was just like “this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
SD – This has been a super charged year for so many reasons. Do you touch on different cultural expectations about motherhood?
KS – The show is intentionally neutral in that regard. It was really important to me to create a show where any ethnicity, any background could play any of the roles. The roles are defined as ‘a single mother’, ‘a lesbian mother’ etc. but we don’t have any specific races in the show because we want people to be able to take the show to wherever they are and see people on stage who resemble themselves.
VRS – That’s what I feel is so special about this show. Even in our logo, we have a hot pink mother and a light pink mother. Anybody can identify within it. We can take the show any place and teach anyone and cast it within whatever cultural or ethnic group is available there.
SD – Have Moms, will travel!
KS – That’s the plan. We’re hoping this workshop will result in a tour, or Off-Broadway, or even Broadway. The longevity of the show lies in its being able to go across the country and resonate with all the different moms. That’s the goal.
VRS – Another thing that is important, and which Kelly and I have talked about, is that while the characters have to identify as female because all of them have actually given birth in the script, we are totally open to casting trans and non-binary actors who are comfortable playing female characters. Any experience is welcome in our casting process.
SD – The story of motherhood in all its diversity is just beginning to be told.
VRS – Yes, there are no cookie cutters in this show.
Indeed that can also be said of Kelly and Victoria. There is nothing cookie cutter about them either. They are multi-dimensional and thoughtful artists and – who knows – perhaps agents of change?
Moms: the Musical, composed and written by Kelly Surette. Edward Hall, co-writer; Victoria Rae Sook, director and choreographer; David John Madore, musical director; Kelsey Mourant, associate choreographer. Workshop produced by Edward Hall and stage managed by Lauren Koval.
Moms: The Musical: An Investor Workshop will be live-streamed from Ripley Grier Studios on July 24, 2021 at 2:00 PM EDT. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased HERE or go to www.suretteandhall.com/moms-the-musical. All live-stream general public ticket sales will be donated to Moms For Moms: NYC – a registered 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to providing assistance to single mothers in need throughout New York City.