Gunderson, Lowdermilk, Kerrigan’s Musical Tells Judges’ HERstories
by Barry David Horwitz
This stirring spectacle of three women who became Supreme Court justices illuminates the story of American justice. Lauren M. Gunderson shows us how the law progresses and then regresses.
“Justice: A New Musical” tells the HERstory of three renowned women: Sandra Day O’Connor from Arizona, Ruth Bader Ginsberg from Brooklyn, and Sonia Sotomayor from the Bronx. These three women forced the Court forward, bringing new voices, new justice.
These patient, brilliant, hard-working women changed life for us all. They are smarter and do double the work. They are the cream of the crop, making justice more equal when they win.
As portrayed by elegant Karen Murphy, O’Connor embodies a feisty, self-assured politician and lawyer. She worked her way through the Arizona legislature as a committed conservative. Murphy makes her an intriguing and tactical lawyer.
Republican O’Connor welcomes Democrat Ginsberg, perfectly portrayed by delightful, powerful Lynda DiVito, as a welcome colleague. O’Connor even generously hands over a feminist opinion for Ginsberg to write. Murphy is captivating and witty, singing with conviction and grace.
But Sandra Day O’Connor makes a big mistake that no one can ignore—not even her friend Ginsburg. O’Connor casts the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision—putting Bush into the White house! The Florida votes were never counted—a harbinger of worse to come.
At glorious moments, we realize how game-changing these super-powered women have been for America. As Sotomayor, Stephanie Prentice sings of her admiration for the two righteous role models. She follows their careers in detail as a girl and a lawyer. Most people never noticed that women’s voices were being ignored.
In Gunderson’s musical, women get to step forward and tell us about how long it took to get a simple women’s restroom installed at the Court. Even in the law, men hold onto their privileges, relinquishing them slowly and reluctantly.
O’Connor waited for years for the Notorious RBG to join her. In a clever scene in the new bathroom, the women talk confidentially. O’Connor’s generous and wise welcome to a Democratic nominee shows the best of sisterhood at work. DiVito sings “Notorious” in cabaret style, spotlighting the RBG charisma.
The music starts out rousing and anthem-like, but keeps repeating the theme song: “A New Justice brings New Justice!” Once the conservatives take over, the song “Dissent Is Not Enough!” becomes the anthem. The women hope their dissenting opinions will someday inspire new laws, laws more equal for all.
Sotomayor works for years to equalize justice for women, Latin people, ethnic groups, and those who are not part of the elite. Her appointment to the high court makes them a sisterhood of three—working together to enlarge the scope of the law. Among their winning decisions, they can point to women’s pay, gay marriage, and increased rights for minorities.
The musical—more like an oratorio—ennobles the three amazing women, but omits Elena Kagan—who is still on the court, still fighting for the rights of the non-elite.
“Justice” triumphs with its heart-warming account of how women do it all—and backwards in heels.
“Justice, A New Musical” –book by Lauren M. Gunderson, music by Bree Lowdermilk, lyrics by Kait Kerrigan, directed by Ashley Rodbro, at Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, California. Info: MarinTheatre.org – to March 12, 2023.
Cast: Karen Murphy, Lynda DiVito, and Stephanie Prentice.
Banner photo: Lynda DiVito, Stephanie Prentice, & Karen Murphy. Photos: Kevin Berne