The theater world woke up recently to the surprising news that Anais Mitchell's innovative and powerful musical play, Hadestown, won fourteen 2019 Tony nominations - this year's largest cache.
The New York Times called the show “gorgeous,” “sumptuous and hypnotic” and it praised the producers for their “twisty” 13-year journey to Broadway. But what really makes me happy is that the show was born and raised in Vermont – as was its author.
As a long-time arts producer in the state, I first became aware of Anais Mitchell as an exceptional singer-songwriter. And I well remember her 2006 and 2007 Vermont performances of Hadestown, before she left for New York to spend years getting the show on its feet.
But her persistence paid off, first through an off-Broadway production at the New York Theater Workshop, followed by a run in London. Now, after continued tweaking and imaginative development by director Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown has landed on Broadway in the same theater where Tony Award winners including August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Tony Kushner's Angels in America have played.
Designer Rachel Hauck's set depicts a New Orleans jazz joint that transforms into the furnace room of boss character Hades' underground factory, Hadestown.
The story draws from the ancient Greek myth where Orpheus descends into the underworld to rescue his fiancée, Eurydice.
Eurydice doesn’t trust her prospects with musician Orpheus who, like her, is mired in poverty. But Orpheus promises to write a song that will make spring come again. The story tracks their hard but revelatory journey.
One of Hadestown's thirty-three songs is titled Why We Build the Wall and it's become an anthem for immigration activists everywhere because of Mitchell's stark and ironic suggestion that we build walls to “keep us free” and “keep out the enemy” when our real enemy is “poverty.”
Hadestown articulates potent and timely themes including artistic beauty, love, confinement, class, freedom, security – and environmental peril. It's ambitious material for a Broadway musical. But everything from lighting to costumes and, of course, the music – is fabulous. And the show’s playing to sold out houses and garnering the theater world's highest honors.
Congratulations are in order.