Theater is about telling stories, and it’s hard to tell a story that doesn’t have a mother involved in some way. After all, they’re how we come into this world and can often greatly affect the outcome of our lives, directly or indirectly, which is why they make such great characters in musicals. Broadway has represented mothers in a multitude of ways – showcasing their strengths and weaknesses, sacrifices and triumphs and pitfalls and failures. Whether good or bad, many of us can find similarities between ourselves or our mothers to the maternal figures we see on stage, allowing us to connect with live storytelling on an intimate level. Today we want to share some mother characters from Broadway musicals we find relatable, loveable and memorable.
Heidi Hansen – Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen is a modern-day musical that touches on themes like mental illness and teen suicide, but it also puts parenting and the relationships of teenagers and their parents in the spotlight. Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s mom, is a modern-day single mother who works as a nurse’s aide and attends paralegal school at night, which often keeps her away from her son. Despite her absence, she tries to find ways to connect with and stay supportive of Evan, often failing. Heidi, as well as the other parents featured in the story, are shown as flawed people who worry and grieve, making the story relatable to single mothers and parents alike. Heidi never gives up on Evan and gives her best every day and that’s why we love her character. The song “Does Anybody Have a Map?” from the musical is sung by Heidi and another mother, Cynthia, is something every parent, especially mothers, can relate to:
Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause the scary truth is
I’m flying blind
And I’m making this up as I go
Bonus tear-jerker video: Dear Evan Hansen star Jessica Phillips’ moving rendition of “So Big/So Small.”
Golde – Fiddler on the Roof
Mothers only want the best for their children, and that includes a romance they approve of. Fiddler on the Roof is a story set during the turn of the 20th century with the universal theme of parenting in a changing world. Golde, a sharp-tongued Jewish woman with a traditional mindset and five daughters, seeks to give her daughters an easier life than she’s had, having been married to a poor milkman for 25 years. While things have changed greatly in the last century when it comes to arranged marriages and romances, the motherly instinct to seek the best life for your child has not. Driven by tradition, Golde and her husband Tevye struggle with their daughters’ choices for marriage. Golde ultimately ends up supporting their choices to marry unconventionally, her love for her family winning over her traditional views, making her a memorable and loveable musical mother.
Fantine – Les Misérables
Being a mother often involves making personal sacrifice, and there’s no greater example of this than the tragic character Fantine in Les Misérables. A not-so modern-day mother, Fantine makes the ultimate sacrifice of herself to ensure the well-being of her daughter, Cosette. Forced by circumstances to become a prostitute after her illegitimate pregnancy, she also sells her hair and teeth to make money to support her daughter, meanwhile deteriorating her health and well-being. While the story is dramatic, her unwavering self-denial to ensure her daughter’s future is admirable, memorable and represents the responsibility many mothers take to ensure a good life for their children.
Edna Turnblad – Hairspray
A more uplifting picture of motherhood, Edna Turnblad is the kind, caring and supportive mother of Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teen who loves dancing in the 60s. Tracy has big dreams of fame and wants to dance on the popular Corny Collins show. Edna, who is embarrassed by her own size, worries her daughter will be treated badly because of her appearance. Although she can occasionally be harsh and nag at Tracy, Edna’s motherly instinct only wants to protect her from any criticism or hurt she might encounter. Edna ultimately ends up supporting her daughter in her endeavors, including her goal to integrate the Corny Collins show. Not only is Edna loving and supportive of Tracy, but she can sing and dance too, making her one of our favorite musical moms. Tracy’s endeavors also help Edna find self-acceptance and confidence again, making this mother-daughter duo an unbeatable team.
Jenna – Waitress
Preparing for motherhood can be a scary and overwhelming thing. But if there’s one thing a child can bring to a mother, it’s the courage to do and be better. That’s what we see in Jenna, a waitress and pie-maker stuck in an abusive marriage. Looking for a way out, she decides to enter a pie baking contest in hopes to use the prize money to start a new life. Her plan doesn’t quite work out, but once her daughter is born, she finds the courage to tell her husband she wants a divorce. A story of perseverance and finding your inner strength, Jenna’s transformation to motherhood is emotional, relatable and gives all the feels. The song “Everything Changes” sung by Jenna and the other women in the show is an emotional, heartfelt and relatable tune that is a love letter to mothers and daughters everywhere.
In the blink of an eye, there’s a new life in front of my face
And I know in due time, every right thing will find its right place
So I swear I’ll remember to say
We were both born today
‘Cause everything changed
Bonus tear-jerker video: Alison Luff sings “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress.
Rose – Gypsy
Even though she wouldn’t win any mom-of-the-year awards, we couldn’t leave Mama Rose off this list. One of the most memorable mothers of Broadway, Mama Rose is the ultimate stage mom, pushing her daughters into show business so she can live vicariously through them. While her motives for their success might be selfish, she loves her daughters and will do whatever it takes to make them stars. Mama Rose certainly isn’t perfect, but no one is, and we can appreciate her tenacity to continue to chase her dreams while taking care of her children and her drive to ensure her daughters’ success.