How 'Hadestown' Made an Epic Journey to Broadway

Matthew Murphy
Patrick Page and Amber Gray 

The new Broadway musical Hadestown (which recently opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre) debuted at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 -- but really, its journey to the stage has taken more than a decade.

Singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell began the show as a "DIY community theater project" in Vermont, before turning it into a studio album with guest vocalists including Ani DiFranco and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Six years ago she started working with visionary director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), and Hadestown's journey to bigger stages began in earnest. On this week's episode of the Billboard on Broadway podcast, Chavkin and Mitchell, along with actors Patrick Page (Hades) and Amber Gray (Persephone), look back on Hadestown's evolution and what continues to make the show so refreshing (and Tony buzz-worthy) today.

Though its music, staging and concept feel decidedly modern, Hadestown is based on an ancient tale -- of the musically-gifted Orpheus; his beloved Eurydice who goes to the underworld, overseen by the god Hades and his bride Persephone; and Hades'  bargain with Orpheus: to return  Eurydice to the land of the living, but only if on the way out of the underworld he does not turn back to look at her. "I love old stories; I love folk music, and a lot of folk music is about traditional stories that get told again and again and resonate differently in different times," says Mitchell of the myth's appeal to her. "Oold stories and songs tell us we're not alone, that any experience we're having has been had before."

While Chavkin notes that the show "is not overtly political in any way," elements of its book and lyrics have, in the past three years, come to feel eerily timely, as they touch on topics ranging from the destruction of the environment to the dangers of absolute power. "Anais and I have never had a conversation like, 'How do we make this timely," Chavkin says. "It's shocking that [the show] has at its center this remarkable song, 'Why We Build the Wall.' But that was not intentional. I think you feel the poetry around it." 

That sense of poetry comes in large part from Hadestown's cast, comprised of some actors who've been with the show since its inception, like Gray and Page, and others newer (like Miss Saigon star Eva Noblezada and Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark's Reeve Carney, as the titular characters) -- but all of whom turn in some of the most distinctive performances in musical theater right now. "People are really making their own choices with the music, making it their own," says Mitchell of her cast. "It's been interesting to see how that elevates the music." (The original Broadway cast recording of Hadestown will be released June 7).

Hear Gray and Page talk about developing their characters and much more in this week's episode, hosted by Rebecca Milzoff.

#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.