Musical ‘Glass Ceilings’ Showcasing Untold Stories Of Women Throughout History You Don’t Know, But Should!

‘Glass Ceilings’ cast rehearsing

“Stories have power. The truth has power.” So say the production team behind a fabulous new musical opening in Los Angeles on March 5, called ‘Glass Ceilings’. Directed by Jessica Gardner (‘Grace & Frankie’, ‘Glow’) with music and lyrics by Laura Watkins, and based on the book by Nicholas David Brandt, ‘Glass Ceilings’ hits the right note at the right time given March is Women’s History Month.

And with the US in the thick of a presidential election season, there has never been a better time to focus on the voices and stories of women that have been forgotten throughout history. And in this musical, you will get to learn about these women in a fun and creative way!

The Rockwell Table & Stage venue in Los Angeles becomes the surreal afterlife of “Hergatory” a cabaret-style bar where women tell their stories through songs and flashbacks, while eagerly watching events unfold on Earth, wondering if equality for all will ever be reached. With a pink mohawked Goddess who rocks out with an all-female band, a diverse group of remarkable ladies from 9 different time periods, and a mystery to be solved, this might be the most fun and inspiring women’s history lesson you’ll ever have.

‘Glass Ceilings’ cast at rehearsals

While in rewrites for their first musical, ‘Comic-Con the Musical’, composer-lyricist Laura Watkins was compelled to write music for women she’d read about whose historical accomplishments had been buried under shadows of similar triumphs from male counterparts. When book writer and feminist Nicholas Brandt heard her songs and came up with the idea for “Hergatory,” the concept of ‘Glass Ceilings’ as a musical was born. They teamed up with actor/director Jessica Gardner, and almost immediately the show starting building momentum.

This production is packed with a powerhouse ensemble of female vocalists: Leslie Rubino (Lizzie Borden, LIZZIE The Musical) as the Goddess, Carrie Madsen (Gilmore Girls) as the Senator, Wendy Rosoff (ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat”) as Jess, Amanda Kruger (The Unauthorized Musical Parody of A League of Their Own) as Sally Ride, Eileen Faxas (Mamma Mia! Broadway Tour) as Anne Royall, Jennifer Sun Bell (Showtime’s “Kidding”) as Ching Shih, Jaime Lyn Beatty (Best Featured Actress in a Musical, 2019 Broadway World Regional Awards) as Jackie Mitchell, Erin Stoddard (Peggy in 42nd Street on Broadway) as Elizabeth Blackwell, Matisha Baldwin (ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder”) as Madame CJ Walker, Randi DeMarco (Ayah in The Secret Garden at 3D Theatricals) as Sacagawea, and Charity Farrell (Elsa in Disney Cruise Line’s Frozen) as Sybil Ludington.

We spoke with director Jessica about the musical, how it all came together, and what it means to her personally being part of such a timely show at this point in our history.

Director Jessica Gardner (center) at a ‘Glass Ceilings’ rehearsal

How did the idea for ‘Glass Ceilings’ originally come about? 

Me and my creative team Laura Watkins (composer) and Nicholas David Brandt (book) were in revisions on our previous musical (Comic-Con the Musical) when the 2016 election happened. Struggling to process it all, Laura turned to writing songs about women throughout history whose stories you should know, but likely don’t. She sent those to us and we soon realized this should be a musical. When Nick chimed in with an overarching story taking place in the surreal feminist afterlife of “Hergatory,” we knew we had something special. We paused working on Comic-Con and threw ourselves into this powerful piece. And the momentum has just been building and building, which led us to realizing we wanted to put on a performance of it and let people see and hear it live. 

As a busy working actress on numerous TV shows, how do you have time to direct a musical?

I don’t! Honestly, I don’t have time, but because of how important I think this musical is, I made time. It’s been quite the undertaking, but as I’ve watched it come together, I know that it’s worth it. It has been so creatively fulfilling. 

Tell us about the process of rehearsals and pre-production in the lead up to the first show?

The first real step in pre-production was securing the talented cast we’d need to pull this off. Casting Director Amy Francis Schott and I had 8 hour open call and we also watched hundreds of self tapes that were sent to us. But all that searching paid off because we have absolutely stellar performers. 

‘Glass Ceilings’ cast rehearsing

In terms of rehearsals, besides hours of working on the music, I really encourage the actors to understand the emotions and struggle their characters have gone through. We’re working with characters based on humans who actually existed, but rather than having them focus on the accent or vernacular of their time period, I really want them to tap into their “why.” Why did they do what they did? How do they feel about the fact that history hasn’t remembered their stories accurately? Each of them has a reason for being in this surreal afterlife and I think the audiences will relate to all their truths because the actors will be focusing on the emotions of the characters. 

March is Women’s History Month and ‘Glass Ceilings’ is the perfect musical to celebrate this event. Who are some of the women audiences will get to know when they attend a performance? 

Hergatory is populated by eight remarkable women throughout history, nine if you count the Goddess who created the world in one day, based on the Sumerian Goddess Nammu. Additionally, you learn about Ching Shih, the pirate queen, Sacagawea, the explorer, Sybil Ludington, who rode a ride like Paul Revere, but three times further, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the US, Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first female self made millionaires, Jackie Mitchell, the teenage pitcher who struck out Babe Ruth, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Some of these names, like Sally Ride and Sacagawea, might be more familiar than others, but you probably don’t know the whole truth behind the story history has told us. 

Why do you believe it is important to celebrate women’s lives and stories especially if they aren’t already famous?

Stories have power, these women’s stories especially. It’s like a secret history that we should have been taught throughout our lives that we’ve missed out on. We’re reclaiming the past, reclaiming the powerful steps these women took, and channeling that energy toward a better future.

Director Jessica Gardner (right) at a ‘Glass Ceilings’ rehearsal

What has been your favorite part of working on ‘Glass Ceilings’? 

Seeing our cast connect with the material. We believed we had something powerful on our hands, but the moment we worked the ending and everyone involved had an emotional response, we knew it was truly important.

There is a lot of emphasis on seeing more women in leadership roles behind the scenes in Hollywood and the entertainment world. Can you share how this musical is part of that push toward gender equality with your crew?

We have a female director/producer in myself and the music and lyrics were written by the genius that is Laura Watkins. Our stage manager Kelsey Risher is a woman, as is our casting director Amy Francis Schott, and our brilliant costume designer Tanya Apuya. Our female cast outnumbers our male cast 11-2. We are very female-forward and it has been our conscious decision to be so. 

‘Glass Ceilings’ cast rehearsing

Aside from the shows in Los Angeles during March, you are fundraising to potentially take the show on the road. Can you tell us more about this plan? 

Technically, this is a workshop production of our show, not a full fledged premiere. We’re hoping artistic directors, producers, and theatre makers will see this show and want to help us get to the next steps. We truly believe this musical could make it to Broadway. Beyond that, because of its female-forward nature and the fact that it could be performed in any venue, it would be a great licensed show for schools and regional and community theatres to perform. 

Finally, what do you want audiences to learn/take away from the show after watching? 

We hope, in addition to learning a bit about these incredible women, that the audience leaves feeling charged to do what they can in their own lives to break down the glass ceilings women still face to this day. As our Goddess says, “Look for inspiration in those that came before you and leave inspiration for those that follow.”

You can learn more about ‘Glass Ceilings’, which runs from March 5 – 28 at the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles, and purchase tickets by clicking here. Can’t see the show in Los Angeles during Women’s History Month? Donate via this link and help the show get on the road to visit more cities.

‘Glass Ceilings’ cast rehearsing

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