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Theater History: The Journey of Broadway’s Hadestown

The story of how Hadestown came to Broadway is as compelling as the Greek mythology the musical is based on.

André De Shields Stars in ‘Hadestown’ on Broadway – Los Angeles Sentinel (lasentinel.net)

The story of Hadestown starts in Vermont, not exactly where you’d expect a musical rooted in the Greek myth of Orpheus to begin. It was in a small cafe where folk singer Anaïs Mitchell began workshopping a song from what would become the original production of Hadestown. She’d been inspired to write the song when returning home to her boyfriend from a late-night, out-of-town gig. The lyrics were simple but effective: wait for me, I’m coming. Mitchell’s longer lyrics also included references to the ‘underworld,’ which is how she began associating her song with the Greek myth of Orpheus.

Anaïs Mitchell’s ‘Hadestown’ On Broadway: Greek Tragedy And Contemporary Strife : NPR

Orpheus was a poet and musician whose music moved gods to tears. When his true love, Eurydice, dies, Orpheus travels to the underworld to save her. After hearing Orpheus’s voice and after urging from Persephone, Hades agrees to let Eurydice go. But there is one condition. On their journey back from the underworld, Orpheus must walk in front of Eurydice and never look until they both reach the surface. In the original myth, Orpheus reaches the surface first and forgets that Eurydice also needs to reach the surface, according to the deal he made with Hades. In all of his excitement, Orpheus turns around to look at his love, and instantly Eurydice is banished back to the underworld for good. This is the story Hadestown is built on.

After finalizing the initial version of the musical, Hadestown debuted in Bare, Vermont, to a boisterous standing ovation. The cast and crew continued to receive the same reaction during the small New England tours that followed. It was a success, and the crowds were invested. But despite the response, local tours were not getting Mitchell the exposure she wanted for the show. Enter her friend, folk singer Ani DiFranco. A concept album was headline with many of folk music’s most highly regarded musicians, and when it was released, it was a critical success, as was the album’s tour.

After receiving such high praise, one might think bringing Hadestown to a Broadway audience would be easy. But that certainly wasn’t the case. Once Mitchell decided she wanted to turn the musical into a production accessible to all audiences (not just an avant-garde, off-Broadway crowd), she knew she had to have a challenging conversation. Until that recent tour, Anaïs Mitchell worked closely with Ben Matchstick, who is often credited as the show’s co-creator. But time revealed that Mitchell and Matchstick no longer had the same vision for the show, and, as a result, Mitchell asked Matchstick to step down. Mitchell brought on Rachel Chavkin in his place, and finally, what would become the Broadway show started to take shape. But still, it would take years of moving the show from off-Broadway New York City to Edmonton, Canada, to London, England (along with changes to every aspect of the show) before Hadestown would find its way to Broadway.

There are many more incredible details to the history of Hadestown and its rise to become an award-winning Broadway musical. If you found any of the information above intriguing, watch the video below. Yes, it’s an hour-long video, but with the great visuals, linear storytelling, and intriguing details, you’ll barely notice the time.


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