The eight-time Tony Award-winning musical HADESTOWN opens at the Providence Performing Arts Center next Tuesday, March 21. The musical, the brainchild of acclaimed musician Anais Mitchell, was the most honored show of the 2019 Broadway season winning four Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical, and the Grammy Award in 2020 for Best Musical Theater Album.
Quite a resume for a show metaphorically set in the ancient Greek underworld.
We spoke to Nigerian-American actor, musician, and writer Chibueze Ihuoma who sings and plays the part of Orpheus to learn more about the touring production. A 2021 graduate of the Tisch School at NYU, this is Ihuoma’s first national tour, expected to continue well beyond the current season. “This is the first time I’ve been a part of a production that’s long-running, it’s already announced through Spring of 2024,” shared the enthused actor in a recent phone chat.
“Being on it now for a year and a half, it’s been so interesting to see how the show develops and changes with new people coming in and out,” said Ihuoma. Over time, “your individual performance evolves and shifts, it’s always evolving, it’s not like a set product. People are allowed to bring their own personalities, their sense of artistry, and their own unique twists and turns on their characters.”
The script centers around the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, classic figures in Greek mythology. “Our version is set with a backdrop of New Orleans blues and jazz mixed with midwestern Americana indie-folk, with some Broadway-isms sprinkled in. It ends up creating a very eclectic backdrop,” said Ihuoma.
The visual setting reflects depression-era America, although it’s not formally set in that period. The story itself is multi-layered. “Orpheus works as a busboy/bartender (in a bar owned by) the god Hermes, and he’s kind of an awkward, sensitive guy, without a lot of social skills,” explained Ihuoma. “But he does have a way with words, and a way with music. He’s to trying to write a song to fix the seasons. Part of what makes the hard times in Hades is that the seasons are out of whack with means crops aren’t growing well and jobs are hard to come by.”
“While working one day, he meets Eurydice who is like a nomad, kind of homeless,” continued Ihuoma. “She’s seen how hard the world can be and thus doesn’t stay anywhere too long. Her challenge is ‘do I want to be vulnerable with this guy who I barely know,’ and his thing is ‘I’ve run into this woman and she’s the most amazing thing I have ever seen.’”
There’s more to the plot, including a struggle between Hades and Persephone, an uneasy blend that certainly makes for good theater. “If you’re used to (traditional) Broadway, used to Wicked and Lion King, this show is going to be very different than anything you’ve seen before. It’s very eclectic in how it blends musical styles… the play shows the full range of human experience, lyrically it’s very dense.”
“There’s lots of commentary on our world today, whether it relates to our political structures or our climate, how we as humans are affecting the planet and the seasons in our lives. It has a lot to say about the human condition, and a lot to say about love, and what people will do for love. How sometimes that can be something so amazing and powerful and sometimes it can be so tragic, nasty, and mean. At the end of the day, love is the driver of every character,” explained Ihuoma.
“I think HADESTOWN really explores that theme well and in a way that will leave you feeling both gutted in some ways, but also leave you with a sense of hope. Things can change, there is hope, and there is love in the world,” added Ihuoma.
HADESTOWN is playing PPAC March 21-26. Click here for tickets and more.