'All Things Equal' play about Ruth Bader Ginsburg captures the role model’s compelling life

FLINT, Michigan — Ruth Bader Ginsburg ("RBG") was known across the world as an identifiable figure and symbol of equality. The late Supreme Court Justice is now the topic of a one-woman play, and it's making a stop at the FIM Whiting Auditorium. Titled “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” the production was written by Rupert Holmes, directed by Laley Lippard, produced by Scott Stander, and stars Michelle Azar.

“All Things Equal” kicks off its first multi-national city tour in Flint on Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. Following the show is a special afterglow event with actress Michelle Azar and a champagne toast to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Largely known for his 1979 hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” singer, songwriter and composer Rupert Holmes says this production gives audiences the chance to get to know RBG and her yearning for equality. The play showcases her inspiring life, which was riddled with loss. For the show’s one-and-only cast member, Michelle Azar, playing RBG is “an actor’s dream.”

Azar grew up around music and stage performances. Her mother was a choir director at a local Jewish school, and Azar was part of a traveling theatre troupe while growing up in Chicago. 
Michelle Azar.
The NYU alum is particularly drawn to the character development side of drama, identifying the psychology and nuances of a character. 

As the only actor in the production, Azar appreciates the unique challenge that aspect brings. 

“I really love doing the solo show. It’s scary as hell, but there’s something very delicious about embodying all the characters on stage, even without anybody else,” she says. 

In research for the show and preparing for her role as RBG, Azar learned more of the trials and tribulations RBG went through during her long life. After watching the Netflix documentary, Azar became mesmerized by RBG’s fierceness and inspired by some crossovers she and the iconic figure shared. Both had immigrant families and experienced loss throughout life. 

“There’s much in the play about all of this backdrop of Brooklyn and being Jewish in a time when it really wasn’t comfortably done,” Azar says. “We have a line about being in Brooklyn and her mom being welcomed at one hair salon and not another. That’s certainly also the story of my mom’s side of the family, too.”

During a time when Azar is in a transformative stage of her own life, the actress was particularly drawn to play this reflective role. 

“As I’m craving a transition in my life, this role was really appealing to me in this response to adaptation,” she says. “Ruth’s need and ability to adapt to the changing times and the surroundings. When the doors were closed on her, she found a different door to open.”

Michelle Azar as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the one-woman play “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
Of course, there are many differences between the actor and the role, too. While RBG needed very little sleep, Azar says she relies on 9-12 hours of sleep to get things done. 

“She was remarkable,” Azar says. “To have the energy and to face the hardships she had to face, I think it’s a really reparative experience for me to know I can embody somebody like that.”

The 90-minute show invites audiences into a deeper look behind RBG’s ups and downs throughout her life, including losing her mother in high school, being one of only nine young women law students at Harvard, raising her daughter and helping her husband throughout his battle with cancer. Fighting for decades in the women’s right movement, and taking courageous stands as a human rights advocate, RBG’s reputation precedes her. Although the figure is notable, Azar says audiences don’t need to know much about RBG to fully appreciate this production.

Michelle Azar as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the one-woman play “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
“The script is really generous and valuable right now, and it keeps responding to the audiences so it’s constantly keeping me on my toes as well as engaged,” Azar says of the play which was written while RBG was still alive. 

Stepping into the role of RBG was also empowering for Azar, who is unpacking a lot of her own upbringing. 

“I heard every single day of my life from my very charming and loving father, ‘well you’re great. You’re loving, you’re smart, and you’re clearly talented, but you will get married.’ It was clear to me that women were terrific, but valuable for their husbands. That was really the backdrop that I grew up with, so I bought into it,” she says.

Azar married early, did everything she was told, and has no regrets. Being involved in this production today, however, inspired the actress to look a bit deeper internally.
“Now, I’m unwinding that while I stand on stage and say, ‘men and women are of equal dignity, and should be heard and lived equally unto the law, but they’re not the same.’”

Michelle Azar as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the one-woman play “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
“Ruth said, ‘if men are entitled to the same rights as women, surely a woman is entitled to the same rights as a man.’ Sometimes, especially in the beginning when I was working on it, I actually had to really work hard to catch up to that belief,” she says. “It’s one thing to say a line, but it’s another thing entirely to really buy it and believe it.”

Although the production details mature, delicate topics like abortion, Azar says the themes of it remain especially relevant in today’s culture and resonate with audiences across all ages.

“People have told me how grateful they are that we’re telling this story, that we’re continuing to bring up the fact that there are people out there who are fighting for equality, and who are fighting to continue the difficult conversations,” Azar says.

The play “All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” takes place on May 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online, at the FIM Ticket Center box offices at FIM Whiting Auditorium and FIM Capitol Theatre, or by calling 810-237-7333.
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.