‘Hadestown’ comes to Schenectady

Performers on stage, one with umbrella, with inset of woman

The company in the national tour of "Hadestown." Inset: Hannah Whitley. (T. Charles Erickson photos)

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Hannah Whitley has found a home in “Hadestown.”

The actress, who plays Eurydice in the touring Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, has felt an affinity with the mythology-infused production ever since she first saw it. The Clevland, Ohio resident and recent Ball State University graduate made her national tour debut with the show last year and will head to Proctors with the production on Tuesday.

“Hadestown,” written by Anaïs Mitchell and directed by Rachel Chavkin, follows two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone. Through songs that blend modern American folk music with New Orleans-inspired jazz, the story takes the audience to the underworld and back again.

It opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in 2019 and that year won eight Tony Awards. The tour previously held technical rehearsals at Proctors and returns on Tuesday for a six-day run.

Shortly before she arrived in Schenectady, The Gazette caught up with Whitley:

Q: What do you think it is about the show that drew you in?
A: Well, “Hadestown” is just a beautiful mesh of different genres of music from folk to rock to indie and jazz. I’d truly never seen anything like that.

I’d always had a pretty nontraditional musical theater voice. So one of the reasons I certainly liked it was I [saw] people singing on the stage that sound like me. I’ve always been so self-conscious of my voice, especially in musical theater. I just don’t know if I sound like a musical theater singer and so I was always worried and then suddenly “Hadestown” comes around, and that’s exactly how I sing.

It’s such a diverse cast, such a diverse company in every possible facet. Another huge reason was I remember seeing Amber Gray, who originally played Persephone in both the Broadway productions and in the workshop for the show. When I saw Amber Gray do Persephone she was just somebody who I felt like almost looked like me on stage.

Also, this show, oddly, from the first time I saw it always felt like home. Unexplainably, I felt like this is like where I was meant to be. And I never thought I would necessarily be in the show.

Q: When did you audition for it?
A: I auditioned for it in June last year. Interestingly enough, I actually auditioned for it for the first time in January (2022). That was the first time I’d ever gotten a callback from Broadway or anything. So I fly to New York City and they tell me this is the final callback. You’re only gonna do one audition [and] they’re gonna make a decision.

But at that time, they were testing people for COVID in the room and I had no symptoms, but I tested positive for COVID. I didn’t get to audition for the show and I was devastated.

Then it came back around in June, and I actually thought I didn’t do too well at my audition. And I remember leaving the room and my mom, everybody knew this was my favorite show and [they asked] how did it go? And I was like, it was terrible. I didn’t think I was gonna get it.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the character you play, Eurydice?
A: The first thing they say about her is she’s a runaway from everywhere she’s ever been. She’s this girl who lives on the street and is struggling to survive in this post-apocalyptic world that “Hadestown” is set in. She’s this beautiful mesh of strength and vulnerability.

Ultimately, I view her as a girl whose only goal is to survive until she meets Orpheus and Orpheus teaches her what it’s like to be alive, not what it’s like to just survive.

We see those two meet in the middle and try to fall in love with each other. The writer, Anaïs Mitchell, always says they’re cosmic lovers. So they’re lovers that love each other almost simply because he’s Orpheus and she’s Eurydice. It couldn’t have happened any other way, which is so beautiful because when the show starts, they’re complete opposites.

I love playing Eurydice because she’s just so human. I think especially as an actor, my goal is to continue to play complicated women, and Eurydice is definitely a complicated woman. That’s what makes her so beautiful. She’s messy, and she’s broken, and she’s vulnerable and tender and fearful and fearless all at the same time. But that’s why I think the audience can resonate with her because even when I play her, I often remind myself, Oh, she’s just like me, she’s just like all of us. She has all these big emotions that we all have.

Q: What were some of the challenges you had in portraying her the way you felt she needed to be portrayed on stage?
A: I think the biggest challenge about Eurydice is that I remember in school, growing up and being in college, I always wanted to play these big characters in which you had to put this mask on. I feel like when most people think about acting, they think about putting a mask on. With Eurydice, you really have to take the mask off. You really have to dig even deeper into your own humanity. You really have to look the audience in the face and tell them the truth and you can’t pretend to be vulnerable on stage. You actually just have to be vulnerable on stage.

I think that’s the hardest part because nobody wants to be vulnerable and scared in front of 2,000 people every night. That’s just what she requires. But it’s what I love. This role challenges me as an actor every night and so it’s always fun to play her because I never feel like “I’ve arrived, I can do this.” I always want to know more about her. I want to get deeper with her and figure out how to be more honest. And so I think the biggest challenge of Eurydice is she just requires honesty. Not acting necessarily, but just truth.

Q: Is there a particular scene that stands out to you or that you love coming back to each performance?
A: I would say doing the song “Flowers.” It’s an ever-evolving song. It’s different every night and it’s such an emotional song. I auditioned with “Flowers,” so I’ve been singing flowers the longest. I always love looking at how far I’ve come with “Flowers” because I can remember me singing it in my basement at home and then to now to be doing it on stage and even to see the way I’ve grown and developed and changed with it.

Q: What has touring life been like?
A: Both great and challenging. It’s so wonderful to travel to see the country to really experience different audiences and also to bring the story to both people who’ve never seen it and also people who’ve been waiting years to see it.

It’s definitely challenging too. It’s almost like your job is your life. They bleed into each other because you’re on the road, your cast is your family. You’re always thinking about the show. That can be exhausting and challenging at times. We only get one day off, and that’s our travel day. But when I graduated people [asked] if you could do anything, what would you do? I was like, I think I’d actually really want to be on a tour first. So this is exactly what I wanted to do.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, Mar. 2; 8 p.m. Friday, Mar. 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Mar. 4 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Mar. 5
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
TICKETS: $25.50 – $90.50
MORE INFO: proctors.org

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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