In 2019, things started really heating up for Anaïs Mitchell when her production of Hadestown opened up on Broadway. The musical has sold out in theaters across the country, including recent showings in Boston. And while many are familiar with the premise of Orpheus and Eurydice that Hadestown takes a spin on, not many know the story of how the musical came to be, including its local ties. Music Coordinator Tatum Jenkins takes a deep dive into the local story of Hadestown, from Vermont to Somerville to Broadway.
THE CONCEPTION OF HADESTOWN
Just out of college, Vermont’s Anaïs Mitchell was just like her main character Orpheus: idealistic, hopeful, and ready to share her creative talents with the world. She wanted to take the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and put her own spin on it. What came to be was Hadestown.
Orpheus and Eurydice live in a post-apocalyptic depression ruled by Hades and hated by Persephone. Orpheus, an idealistic musician, and Eurydice, a logical singer, fall in love, but begin to experience troubles when neither of them can make money.
Mitchell first came up with this version of the Greek tragedy in 2004 when she was writing her second album. Driving in Virginia, heading to a gig, the idea for the song “Wait For Me” first entered her mind as she was missing her boyfriend and now husband Noah Hahn. She immediately connected the song idea with one of her favorite stories as a child: the tragedy of Eurydice and Orpheus.
THE VERMONT-MADE PRODUCTION AND ITS EARLY PERFORMANCES, FROM BARRE TO SOMERVILLE
When she was twenty-five and settled back in her home state of Vermont, Anaïs Mitchell decided to take these cycles of songs and bring them to the stage. With help from orchestrators, friends, directors from local theater companies and a $5,000 donation from a Vermont arts organization, they were able to put the show on. The musical’s debut took place in Barre, Vermont in 2006. It was a different version of the show now — more ambiguous, interpretive, and visual.
Traveling in a silver-painted school bus, they put on performances on stages across Vermont such as Vergennes Opera House, as well as in Somerville, Massachusetts.
HADESTOWN THE ALBUM
After two years of the project’s life on the stage touring between Vermont and Massachusetts, Mitchell decided to make the project into a concept album in 2010 called Hadestown. Interspersed with amazing voices like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Ani DiFranco, she used her musical connections and career as a songwriter to make this album exist for the world in a real way.
Despite a lack of visuals, the story comes across so strongly in the instrumentals and vocals. The people involved sound so passionate about embodying these characters as much as possible. Before pursuing any off-Broadway opportunities, Mitchell toured the album with a rotating cast, even making an appearance at Club Passim in Cambridge.
HADESTOWN’S TRANSITION ONTO BROADWAY FOR A GROUND-BREAKING RUN
Anaïs Mitchell moved to New York in 2012 to try to find a bigger opportunity for Hadestown. She stumbled upon director Rachel Chavkin after seeing her direction with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Chavkin helped her workshop it through New York Theatre Workshop, where the show finally started to take its final form. After the workshop, Hadestown made its way to Canada at the Citadel Theatre in 2017, National Theatre in London in 2018, and then made its Broadway debut in 2019.
Hadestown is one of Broadway’s top-grossing shows, and she’s only one of four women to have sole credit for the lyrics, music, and book of a Broadway musical. Hadestown found success at the 2019 Tony’s as well, with fourteen Tony nominations and eight wins, its crowning achievement being its win for Best Musical.
NATIONAL TOUR AND THE FUTURE
After such a great run on Broadway, Mitchell wrote a book about the musical, Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown, which includes the official lyrics and notes about behind-the-scenes revisions to the show. Hadestown landed at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston for two weeks in November and is set to head to New Orleans and Houston next. The show will hopefully continue to tour all over the country until March 2023 so long as health and safety precautions permit it.