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Dex Drewitz & Michelle Rawlings in Billy Elliot the Musical (2019). Photo by Trudie Lee
Mother's Day and Plays: 5 Memorable Moms on our Stage
There’s nothing more loving, complex, or rewarding than the relationships between mothers and their family, and all of that readily-available drama is probably why there is no shortage of plays and musicals where those relationships play a starring role. Mother’s Day is coming up on May 10 so we’re counting down a list of five of the most memorable mom characters who have appeared on our stage.
Spoiler Alert! - there are some important plot points and spoilers ahead.
Kira Guloien in The Louder We Get (2020). Photo by Trudie Lee
1. Emily Hall - The Louder We Get
At Theatre Calgary: 2020
Emily Hall, Marc Hall’s mom in The Louder We Get, is a loving and supportive woman with a refreshing dose of French-Canadian feistiness. Struggling with her identity as a woman of the church and the rifts in the community that her son’s desire to take his boyfriend to prom cause, Emily shows us that she is ready to stand up for her son, no matter what. You may have also noticed a name that she uses towards Marc, “mon loup” which is a term of endearment in French that means “my wolf.” For Theatre Calgary, Emily Hall was played by Kira Guloien.
Musical theatre seems to have a recurring theme with moms on stage. For each mom, there is usually a tear-jerking solo that tugs on your heartstrings until they snap and you’re left a blubbering mess in your seat. If you’re like many of the people who saw The Louder We Get, you know exactly what song we’re talking about which is Emily’s plea for help in the church, “Mother Mary.”
Kathryn Akin & Réjean Cournoyer in Next to Normal (2013). Photo by Trudie Lee
2. Diana Goodman - Next to Normal
At Theatre Calgary: 2012
Next to Normal is a heavy show that centres around Diana Goodman, a mother struggling with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that it has on her family. Nominated for eleven Tony Awards the year it opened on Broadway, Next to Normal is a raw, honest look at the highs and lows of mental illness and how deep a mother’s love can go. Dealing with her bipolar disorder, her husband, the death of her son and a brittle relationship with her daughter, Diana rides an emotional roller coaster delivering some of the greatest and most powerful lyrics musical theatre has ever given us (it even won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming only the eighth musical to do so). For Theatre Calgary, Diana Goodman was played by Kathryn Akin.
Though the ending is not what most would consider “happy,” Diana’s decisions at the end of Next to Normal allow her to process her own grief and remain more hopeful than ever before.
Are you or someone you know struggling with mental health? Here are some resources that can help:
K.K. Edissi in Gypsy (1992). Photo by Trudie Lee
3. Mama Rose - Gypsy
At Theatre Calgary: 1992
If you’ve seen Gypsy, you know that Mama Rose basically invented the term “stage mom.” Playbill has even gone so far as to describe her as the King Lear of musical theatre. Decades before stage and dance moms became reality T.V. show sensations on TLC, Mama Rose was the aggressive and domineering presence in the lives of her two daughters, Baby June and Louise. Forcing them to perform in the vaudeville circuit in the early 1920s, Mama Rose feels shortchanged in her career and wants nothing but the best and brightest spotlight for her children. Constantly dreaming of her own cheering audience, Mama Rose nudges June and Louise towards stardom, often at the expense of their relationship and the people closest to her. By the end of the musical, June has absconded with a performer named Tulsa, and the once shy Louise has become the infamous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. In the final moments, Rose finally realizes that she has pushed her children away by wanting to live vicariously through them. While it is too late for June, this realization allows Mama Rose and Louise to move towards uncertain reconciliation. For Theatre Calgary, Mama Rose was played by K.K. Edissi.
Did you know? The ending of Gypsy has been changed a number of times for different stagings. For example, in the 2008 Broadway revival, the finale includes Louise walking away from her mother and laughing, with no hope of reconciliation.
Dawn Greenhalgh in The Glass Menagerie (1989)
4. Amanda Wingfield - The Glass Menagerie
The Glass Menagerie is a classic and powerful play about memory and just how hard it can be to accept the reality we find ourselves living in. Throughout Tenessee Williams’ masterpiece, Amanda Wingfield regales her son (the narrator, Tom) and her daughter (Laura) with stories of her perfect youth as a Southern belle and all of the suitors who went after her. In her current reality however, Amanda is living a less than idyllic life. She is poor, the father of her children has abandoned the family with nothing but a postcard, Tom hates his job but continues to do it in order to support the family, and Laura is a painfully-shy young woman who walks with a limp (due to a leg brace). While constantly commenting on Tom’s shortcomings and laughable dream to become a poet, Amanda only wants one thing for her daughter, a suitable genteman. After a series of failed attempts to find Laura a suitor, the play ends with a broken unicorn figurine and a failed encounter between Laura and a friend from Tom’s work. Clinging to the memories of her past, Amanda is unable to accept her daughter’s differences and Tom leaves them behind to travel the world. For Theatre Calgary, Amanda Wingfield has been played by Helen Hughes in 1976, Dawn Greenhalgh in 1989, and Nancy Beatty in 1999.
Dex Drewitz & Michelle Rawlings in Billy Elliot The Musical (2019). Photo by Trudie Lee
5. Jenny Elliot - Billy Elliot The Musical
At Theatre Calgary: 2019
Losing a parent is hard. It’s even harder when you’re a young boy growing up amid political strife with a father who just wants you to be a boxer, not a ballet dancer. In Billy Elliot The Musical, young Billy is not only coping with the loss of his mother, he’s also trying to figure out his new-found passion for dance. Through the magic of the stage, Billy’s mom appears to him in a short series of conversations where she reminds Billy of her love for him and how proud that she is to have him as a son. While her time on stage is short, Jenny Elliot proves that a mother’s love knows no bounds. And if her song “The Letter” doesn’t bring you to tears, we’re not sure what will. For Theatre Calgary, Jenny Elliot was played by Michelle Rawlings.