Jenn Colella tells new Broadway stories in 'Suffs'

Starring in "Safus " was a reality check for Jenn Colella. Back in 2017, the actor was tapped to play turn-of-the-century suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt in Shania Taub's new musical, In it, the character goes head-to-head with upstart activist Alice Paul (Taub). . Colella, who was 42 at the time, thought he was too young for the role.

"I was like, 'Oh, that's so sweet. Of course, I would have done that the first time I read it, but obviously I was too young to represent conservatives," Colella, now 49, tells Bustle. "But once I got in, I realized, 'Oh, this woman is really bad.'"

In 2022, two years after it premiered at New York's Public Theater, "Safus" was staged on Broadway, making an immediate impact. Produced by Hillary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai, the show was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Colella celebrated with neighbor and actor Jaygee Macapugay, "screaming like we won the World Series."

On stage, their characters were fighting for a different kind of victory: women's suffrage. Over time, Colella not only became "very comfortable" "representing conservatives," but was proud to share Carter's legacy with audiences.

Colella wore blue on opening night at Suffs . Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

As part of this story, she reveals a new LGBTQ+ narrative: the play imagines Catt and her real-life partner Mollie Hay (Makapugai) as romantic partners on stage. (Colela herself has been an inspiration to many queer performers, such as Mean Girls ' Renée Rapp.)

The musical took on new meaning when Colella and wife Mo Mullen welcomed daughter Morrison on Valentine's Day 2024. Now, her opening song "Let Mother Vote" takes a different tone.

"I felt like my heart had left my body. I just burst into tears," said Colella, who was nominated for a Tony Award for 2017's "Come From Away ." "Even saying the word 'mom' on stage makes me want to cry."

Her daughter makes Saves feel even more important. “This is an important piece of art that can actually inspire change when we need it most,” she said. "I'm doing something important that could actually change the course of our history. I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life."

Below, she reflects on how she prepared to tell Kate's story, her strange pre-show ritual, and the biggest challenge Saves faced.

Colella (far left) and the Sapphos cast sang "Happy Birthday" to Gloria Steinem backstage. Bruce Glikas/WireImage/Getty Images

On her pre-show ritual:

I like to meditate. It helps me a lot if I can sit in the space of a theater and let go of everything that happened during the day and free my mind. Then I'll put on an Ingrid Michaelson or Sara Bareilles outfit. I love singing songs that connect to my soul. This is how I warm up when putting on makeup. Then we sing a prayer song with everyone in the stairwell five minutes before the show.

Regarding locker room essentials:

My dressing room has a humidifier, lots of water, all my makeup, and lots of really soft blankets and pillows so I can snuggle up and meditate. I absolutely love taking a nap there between shows. I love throat coating tea, I put Elements in water, which is a magnesium packet, and sometimes I do a throat spray.

Opening seconds:

I was really nervous as the show came to an end. My heart is racing. I felt like a kid again, like this was my first solo in the fourth grade choir. I took a deep breath and told myself I deserved to be there, I deserved to be there.

On her strange vocal practices:

Before I go on stage, I have to make some weird noises to attract attention. It's kind of a siren thing, but then there's this rattle. Too strange.

About die-hard drama fans:

I find it remarkable that at the end of my day, people stand outside my workplace and say "well done." Who else can get this? I’ve had people ask me, “Would you write this lyric on a napkin?” And then they come back and show me the tattoo. One fan has my signature tattooed on his body. Especially drama fans, they mean it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity .