Orpheus and Eurydice. Hades and Persephone. These fabled couples may be the stars of the upcoming Hadestown, but there’s another duo at the center of the story: creator-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and creator-director Rachel Chavkin. Their chemistry is just as vibrant, their brainwaves as intertwined, their powers as complementary. A double helix, they are the DNA of the new musical about to redefine the genre yet again.
Pioneering artists, both women live and work with sharp purpose and profound emotion—and Hadestown radiates with intent and pathos.
“This show remains the most delicate and the hardest theatre I’ve ever worked on,” says Chavkin, who earned a Tony nomination for her radical vision of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.
Hadestown recounts the myth, as told by the messenger god Hermes, of the poet Orpheus and the nymph Eurydice. Deeply in love with each other, their happiness is cut short when Hades, weary of his wife Persephone, steals Eurydice to his underworld. Refusing to live on earth without his soulmate, Orpheus travels down to Hadestown to plead for Eurydice’s life.
Like Orpheus, Hadestown has trod a long road. After Mitchell’s initial 2010 concept album, the show came to New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, journeyed to Canada’s Citadel in 2017, bowed in London’s West End this past fall, and will now transfer to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre, beginning performances March 22.
“There’s major revisions happening between London and Broadway,” says Chavkin. “But, for the first time in this show’s life, the core of the production is absolutely staying the same.”
Hadestown is a product of the best parts of each artist, coalescing Mitchell’s expressiveness and ethereal music with Chavkin’s imagination and commanding energy. Though it originated with Mitchell’s album, the pair built Hadestown together.
“Anaïs is one of the great poets—I mean that on a cosmological time level, not just this year on Broadway,” says Chavkin. “Her melodies, the heart of the lyrics, the sonic rhymes, the unusual turnabouts of face, there’s wit there, and then there’s unbelievable earnestness there that I find breathtaking.”
“Rachel’s been kicking my ass for six years,” says Mitchell, who gravitates to Chavkin’s passion, her sense of culture, her daring—all laced with a fierce discipline.
“You’re as relentless as I am,” Chavkin responds. “It takes you months to work on a rhyme and for an image to blossom.”
Indeed, Hadestown sings with the heart and imagery of a poem, set to a score that successfully blends Pointer Sisters jazz, contemporary blues, and indie theatre, with a punk-meets-folk soul; and Chavkin activates the narrative in the lyricism.
“I will spend all my time trying to find some rhyme that feels mystical to me and it hits my heart at this weird angle that I want,” says Mitchell, “and then Rachel is like, ‘Yeah, but the story, the story,’ helping me to put those tools to use in service of the storytelling moment to moment.”
Shifting into focus, the story has found its sense of humor and, according to Chavkin, “has gotten a lot deeper and more character-driven.”
“The characters that have been the trickiest to write are the young lovers Orpheus and Eurydice,” says Mitchell. But Mitchell has been able to sculpt her characters by watching Amber Gray and Patrick Page returning to their roles, and newcomers to the project Reeve Carney and Tony nominee Eva Noblezada.
“Eva brought so much toughness and humor to the Eurydice character, who is the tragic figure so it’s really delightful to experience her as the least victim-y tragic figure that I could imagine,” she says. “Reeve has this ‘touch quality’ a sort of angelic, other-worldly presence.”
It’s caused Mitchell to stray from the cocky, confident leading man she’d previously envisioned. “Orpheus is just a strange dreamer…optimist…idealist,” says Mitchell. (“You,” Chavkin points out.)
As Orpheus has become clearer, so too has the world he inhabits. “The focus has always been and remains these overlapping couples and how their individual love stories intersect,” says Chavkin. But what has “radically expanded” is the significance of Orpheus changing the rules of the realm, which takes the shape of a factory town.
Through the addition of a worker’s chorus, those who labor on the railroad to this industrial underworld, they illuminate the impact of Orpheus’ negotiation on everyone in Hadestown. That nuance, says Chavkin, “has made solidarity—and how you stand with your fellow human—as present and potent as this story of whether you can trust your love to be there when you turn around.”
As the characters and message gain specificity and the final iteration reveals itself, the pair lean “further into the culture and the warmth we created at New York Theatre Workshop.”
“Rachel loves music so much—and poetry—and gets why things work at a musical level and isn’t trying to make this show fit into a mold that it would never fit,” says Mitchell.
Fingerprints of the NYTW concert landscape linger, mainly in the production’s aura. Microphones disappeared, but the “Vermont barn mixed with Greek amphitheater” design cemented.
A sort of cousin to her Great Comet (which fully immersed her audience in the Russian vodka den of the 1800s), Hadestown lives on a proscenium stage (“puncturing the proscenium in a really small but important way”); but still eliminates the spiritual gap between the stage and the audience.
As the director messengers Hadestown to the Main Stem, Mitchell can’t help but think of Chavkin as her own Hermes, taking “equal parts seriousness and delight” in the telling of stories. As the two create in lockstep, proceeding with love and trust, one thing’s certain: their final Hadestown will be inspired by the gods.