New Haven’s Anais Mitchell brings ‘Hadestown’ to broadway

When Vogue calls your folk opera the “next musical theater obsession” you know you’ve done something right. When that musical makes it to Broadway, that’s another clue… Yeah, Addison County native Anaïs Mitchell and her show “Hadestown” has made it — big time.
Star struck? Yes, most definitely. This is one of those awesome stories of a local New Haven kid makin’ it big on Broadway. But this star hasn’t forgotten where she came from.
Mitchell, 38, graduated from Mount Abraham in 1999 and then Middlebury College in 2004 (with none other than a poli-sci degree). She collaborated with Michael Chorney of Lincoln on her first two albums, as well as on the folk opera “Hadestown,” which played in its earliest form at the Vergennes Opera House, at Middlebury College and at the Old Labor Hall in Barre in 2006 and 2007. Chorney is now one of two arranger-orchestrators for the Broadway play and is playing guitar in the show every night.
REEVE CARNEY AS Orpheus and Eva Noblezada as Eurydice. Photo by Matthew Murphy
More than a decade ago, “Hadestown” was just one of the things Mitchell was working on. She spent most of her 20s driving around (in a Subaru, of course) playing guitar and singing for whoever would have her. She worked with a couple indie labels early on and then started her own record label for her songwriter indie/folk/rock/pop albums.
Fast forward to April 17, 2019, and “Hadestown” opens on Broadway in New York City. Mitchell, writer of the music, lyrics and book, took a break from the red-carpet life to tell the Addison Independent all about “Hadestown.”
If you were to sum up “Hadestown” in a sentence or two, how would you describe it?
“Hadestown” is based on Greek mythology and tells two intertwining love stories — the young love story of the musician/poet Orpheus and his bride Eurydice, and the older story of the ancient, crumbling marriage between Hades (King of the Underworld) and Persephone (Queen of nature and the season).
THE WORKERS CHORUS sings and stomps on stage in “Hadestown” written by New Haven native Anaïs Mitchell, and now playing on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Matthew Murphy
How did you first conceive of the idea for this folk opera?
The very beginning of the thing was just some lyrics that came into my head that seemed to be about the Orpheus and Eurydice story. “Wait for me, I’m coming / In my garters and pearls / With what melody did you barter me / From the wicked underworld.” (Those lines, by the way, never ended up in any production, but the melody became the song “Wait for Me”.) Once I got into it I was inspired by the idea of this artist character who goes up against the machine and tries to change the rules of the world for love.
Why did you choose the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as the baseline of this story?
I think the story chose me, and not the other way around. It’s a curious, mysterious, generous myth that keeps giving and refracting light in different ways — an ancient story that really speaks to our present day.
AMBER GRAY AS Persephone and the Broadway cast of “Hadestown.” Photo by Matthew Murphy
What was the journey like taking “Hadestown” from a small town stage all the way to Broadway?
It’s been a long road, and every step of the way has just been one foot in front of the other, feeling my/our way in the dark. I’m so grateful for all my collaborators at every part of the journey, and I’m grateful that Broadway audiences seem ready to embrace this unconventional, romantic, political piece, seem hungry for new approaches to storytelling via music. I’m so proud that this piece didn’t originate in some producers meeting in Manhattan, but really grew organically out of the wild woods of Vermont.
What was the show like the first time it was performed in Barre in 2006, compared to the performance now on Broadway?
The early shows in Vermont were directed and designed by a radical theater artist named Ben T. Matchstick. Ben’s stamp is still in the DNA of the show and he is still credited in the Broadway program as a “co-conceiver” of the piece. Local musical hero Michael Chorney, one of our two orchestrators who plays guitar in the show every night, was working on the arrangements from the moment the first songs were written, and it was he and his band playing at those performances. The show back then was shorter and more abstract, but it was beautifully staged; in addition to the songs, there were long sequences of instrumental music and visual storytelling.
The Broadway show is a quite different animal… twice as long, and much more text-driven. There is a narrator (Hermes) guiding us through the story, and characters speak to each other (in rhyming verse) between and in the middle of songs in underscored recitative scenes. These are meant to help us track the storytelling and the arc of our characters in a moment-to-moment way rather than a sort of “portraiture” way. And there are, I think, the kind of thrilling visual “spectacle” moments that make it feel “Broadway.”
PATRICK PAGE AS Hades and Amber Gray as Persephone. Photo by Matthew Murphy
How did you connect with Rachel Chavkin the director of “Hadestown”? What influences did she have on the show?
I met Rachel in 2012 after I saw her direction of “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” at a tiny off-Broadway theater called Ars Nova. I was blown away by her work on that show and the way a show that unconventional could be so delightful and accessible. I began working with Rachel on “Hadestown” in 2013.
In addition to being a visionary director, Rachel has been a very loving, aggressive dramaturgical partner to me for the last six years. I’ve had to write and rewrite the show fairly constantly between workshops and productions to try to take it from what was initially a more abstract, poetic version of the story, toward what is hopefully a more clear and dramatically satisfying piece that still works at the level of music and poetry. Rachel’s tough, smart, relentless, and she loves her work and those she works with. It’s been an inspiration to watch a woman lead a room full of people with fearlessness and grace.
Do you feel like your original conception for “Hadestown” is still alive in the show now?
I believe there is a spirit about this show that has been there from the beginning — a way in which the show and its themes and images are bigger than any of us who’ve ever worked on it, and it carries us on its back. And there’s a spirit of collective music-making and the joy and hope and togetherness feelings of that that still feels really alive to me. I’m gonna sound like a hippie but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that singing together with other people makes us feel less alone in the world.
EVA NOBLEZADA STARS as Eurydice. Photo by Matthew Murphy
How has “Hadestown” changed you? What lessons do you hope audiences will take with them after the show?
I’ve been working on this show, or at least living with it in some form, for a third of my life! So it’s been a constant companion and really given meaning to my life for a long time. I think at every stage of the game — whether it was easy or hard — it’s been a reminder that collaboration is worth the struggle, that when artists come together fruitfully it is possible to make something that is truly a sum greater than its individual parts.
All my love to Addison County!
— Anaïs

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