VOICES -- A New Broadway Musical by Karen Sperling
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Victoria C. WoodhullContinued...

The play takes place in the early 1870‘s. Victoria is first seen in jail, contemplating how she got there. The people of the time appear and she listens to the needs of the people she loves. She hears who they are, what they say and what they want. She remembers her promises to herself and to all of them. Her sister joins her in the cell and they plot to help her escape to be able to continue her fight.

We flashback to a time as a young girl with her delightful sister, Tennessee Claflin, when they were living like gypsies and selling elixirs off of a caravan. She decides to run away from her abusive father with a man she believes will love and protect her. We learn her first promise of love is a disaster as her first husband is a drunk and she has a retarded child to support in any way possible for a young woman on her own.

While being a Spiritual Adviser to the lovelorn and to the grieving widows of the Civil War, she meets and falls in love with Colonel James Blood. They find one another irresistible and as President of the Spiritualist Movement, he invites her to travel across the country with him and speak her free thoughts. In Victorian times, a young and attractive woman speaking out for freedom causes wild eruptions in lecture halls and she is hounded by Reporters.

Her sister, Tennessee, who has secretly become a courtesan to make money, seeks her out and returns to stand by Victoria. With her carefree and confident character Tennessee convinces Victoria to go where she can be heard and understood, to go to New York City. By chance on their way to creating fame and fortune, they meet Cornelius Vanderbilt, the millionaire. He is utterly smitten with Tennessee and he funds The Woodhull-Claflin Brokerage House, the first one ever run by women.

With innate smarts and spies in the gaming halls, the sisters become rich and independent. Victoria attracts the attention of women fighting for their right to vote and is asked by the Women’s Suffragette Movement to speak at their Convention. Supported by a tough-minded Senator Butler from Washington D.C. who has invited her to be the only woman who speaks before Congress. Having championed prostitutes who are beaten for bribes and married women who are chained to the slavery of marriage, she stands for free love by stating, “Better a lawless love than a loveless marriage”

Victoria has also reunited with her crazy family. Her drunken jealous sister, Utica, her flamboyant mother, Roxy who loves bursting into tears for attention and her father Buck Claflin, a scoundrel who tries to cheat her rich clients, all create mayhem for her in public. Reporters love the chaos and continue to pursue her as she speaks out not only for the right to vote but the right for women to choose to love freely. Of course, this kind of outspoken plea for freedom is unacceptable to Society and Victoria comes up against the leaders of the Victorian Christian Right.

Victoria is shouted off of Convention Hall floors and creates her own public pandemonium. Catherine Beecher, a leading Society Matron, is appalled by her behavior and threatens to run her out of town. To defend her self, Victoria confronts Catherine’s powerful brother the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher who is a showman of the highest order and preaches the sins of the day to his adoring churchgoers. Victoria discovers he is a virile man and a complete hypocrite. Behind the scenes he is having a torrid affair with his best friend’s wife. When she first confronts him and begs him to help her, he is intrigued by her beauty and her brilliance. But he hasn’t the courage and he refuses to stand by Victoria. Confronted with losing everything , she chooses to expose him in her weekly newspaper. For malicious contempt toward an upstanding citizen such as the good Reverend the authorities throw Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, in to jail.

While guards are posted at every entrance, Victoria is scheduled to speak at a major convention rally. Having escaped her family as a teenager, her poverty-stricken background and her miserable marriage, in disguise Victoria escapes jail. She sneaks onto the stage at the Convention Hall and before everyone she reveals herself. In one last effort to be heard, she speaks out for freedom of choice and free love. Her final triumphant moment becomes a plea to all to listen to their own inner voice and the voices of the people.

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