Any way the wind blows, Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad are splendid in the Tony-winning musical
In Hadestown, two ancient love stories, brought to life by singer-songwriter and actual goddess Anaïs Mitchell, are intertwined and presented as one long song. It’s an old song, and it’s a sad song, but it’s a good song.
Conceived as a DIY theater project in Vermont in 2006, followed by a concept album in 2010, Hadestown has woven its way around the globe and into the hearts of many, growing stronger and clearer with each production, ultimately landing on the Broadway stage in April to a very positive reception. The Greek myths populated by mortals and immortals—Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades, Persephone and Hermes—have been reimagined for modern audiences and given a breathtakingly beautiful, rich score.
Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (Grease: Live) and Kay Trinidad (The Little Mermaid) play The Fates, goddesses who weave the tapestry of life and dictate the destinies of humans and gods. Together, they produce stunning harmonies.
“We each decided which fates we were,” said Blackman, who made her Broadway debut in Hadestown. “Whether we were the fate of death, the fate of allotting time or the fate that creates the thread of life.”
They each naturally gravitated to a fate.
“I chose death, and when you think of death, you often think low, you think deep,” said Blackman, who sings the lowest part, while Nacer sings the highest part and Trinidad sings the middle part. “It’s really interesting that the arrangement Anaïs wrote, in terms of the Fates,…is a spectrum of voices, from soprano to the lowest female voice possible.”
“Our voices are all so different, but together they blend so well,” said Nacer. “There is a lot of diversity and representation in our cast and vocally is no exception.”
Anaïs Mitchell plays with high and low tones throughout the folk opera, using voices as metaphor. Patrick Page (Hades) has a voice that Reeve Carney (Orpheus) once described as “from the depths of hell,” and director Rachel Chavkin has called a “freak of nature,” in the nicest way possible. The king of the underworld growls entire songs with a sound not heard anywhere else. Conversely, Orpheus often sings in a high register, lending a heavenly quality to his character, the legendary musician who happens to be the son of a Muse.
Amber Gray (Persephone) and Eva Noblezada (Eurydice) give Mitchell credit for writing music that fits comfortably within their vocal range. Both women are sensational in the mythic roles. Noblezada gives a voice to a character who traditionally had none and Gray stands out in her chartreuse dress as the goddess of spring and life of the party.
“Hadestown takes place in an unstated post-apocalyptic time period,” Trinidad explained. The setting feels like New Orleans though and features a jazz band on stage.
“That’s what’s so special about Hadestown and what helps make it so relevant to our current political climate, by not having it strapped into one particular locale or time period,” added Blackman.
The musical has political undertones, due in part to “Why We Build the Wall,” a powerful protest song that closes out the first act. Only those who lack imagination conclude it’s about contemporary American politics, despite being written 13 years ago. The haunting lyrics use a perfect circular logic that, like many of Mitchell’s other folk songs, sound like they could have been written hundreds of years ago and apply to any time period.
Universal themes inhabit every song in Hadestown, running the gamut genre-wise—with influences of jazz, blues, soul, folk, rock and more.
“In one word—epic,” said Trinidad.
“It’s an amalgamation of styles and genres, which makes it different and so catchy and intriguing,” said Blackman. “It’s joyful for the listener because it doesn’t draw on one type of musical genre and it doesn’t try to live in one particular space. It’s everywhere.”
The Fates are introduced by Hermes, played by the divine André De Shields, and through the song “Any Way the Wind Blows” at the beginning, where they establish their role as a force to be reckoned with, like a strong wind.
“Within Greek mythology and in this story, we know what’s going to happen already. Your future is already destined by us,” said Trinidad. “Although it may seem like we are Hades’ minions, we are definitely in control.”
“In this interpretation, we sometimes take on the role of the wind and push people one way or another, literally and figuratively, so they can fulfill their predetermined fate,” said Nacer.
Blackman added that the Fates also represent the voices in our heads that we all struggle with.
“It’s like the Fates are constant reminders of the yin and yang, and the what ifs and possibilities,” she said.
Largely present, Blackman, Nacer and Trinidad drift around the stage, often in unison, while maintaining a measure of individuality.
“We are definitely a unit,” Trinidad said. “We’re sisters and we are all one and what we like to call the ‘hive mind’ together.”
“I think naturally we each bring something different to the Fates,” said Blackman. “We were encouraged to draw upon those differences and let them shine through our movements and how we sing. At times when we have to sing in tight harmonies, it’s great because we find a way to become really cohesive and one mind.”
It’s clear the production has paid immense attention to detail in creating the atmosphere through sets and costumes, right down to feathers on Hermes’ cuffs, a nod to his role as messenger to the gods, often depicted as wearing winged sandals.
“Our costumes are elegant and timeless, yet purposefully tattered in places, communicating that we are goddesses, but we’ve also been around for a while,” Nacer said. “The Fates are originally described as three ladies all dressed the same. However, Michael Krass, our incredible costume designer, did such a beautiful job making our dresses a little different from each other, and our silk chiffon dresses move like the wind.”
The three actresses have been involved in the show for varying amounts of time. Jewelle, drawn in by the music and the prospect of working with Rachel Chavkin, performed in the Canadian production in 2017. Trinidad became aware of the show at the time and fell in love with the music. Nacer participated in several workshops of Hadestown over the years before being cast in the Broadway production.
Hadestown is one of only a handful of women-led creative teams in Broadway history. Director Chavkin has a lot of street cred among the New York theater community, most recently having directed Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, while composer Mitchell is a newcomer to the Broadway scene. Mitchell, however, has been recognized as a prodigious talent in the world of new American folk music, known for years as an engaging artist and collaborator.
“It’s a beautiful room,” said Blackman. “There were no egos involved. There was a lot of collaboration and they were open to things that worked for you, and you were allowed to give input about what felt good, vocally or stylistically. It was really nice to be in a room that was just very warm and you could talk to them as people and not feel like there was a hierarchy. Everybody felt like we were at an equal playing field.”
Nacer said she couldn’t be more inspired.
“[Rachel] is so rad, such a visionary and just an incredible badass director. She really knows how to get things done and creates an environment where everyone wants to bring their best to the table every day,” she said. “Working with an almost all-female creative team was magical. I really hope in the near future, having a female creative team on Broadway becomes the norm, not the exception.”
The Fates have several numbers that highlight their talents, including “Nothing Changes,” which is sung in a sweet harmonic way, while sending a message to the characters to not bother and don’t try, just give up.
“It’s amazing! Anaïs is like a master of contrast or oxymorons, and opposites working hand in hand,” said Blackman.
“When the Chips are Down” is an upbeat salsa number that the Fates sing in a sassy, antagonistic manner at Eurydice, bidding her to make a decision.
“One of the biggest things I thought about while we were learning this number was that we shouldn’t be seeing her as our victim. We are her cheerleaders,” Trinidad said. “We’re just nudging. We’re just cheering her on to continue to make the decision we know she’s going to make.”
What do the actresses want audiences to take away from the show?
“It’s natural, it’s human to have doubt,” said Blackman. “It doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t try and persevere. Regardless if somebody has tried to do something before you and failed, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t yourself try and try again.”
“I want people to walk away from this show with a feeling of hope,” said Nacer. “That although it might seem futile at times, even a single person or a single song has the power to change the world.”
Winner of eight Tony awards and with an incredible cast, this musical like no other. See Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W 48th St. (between Broadway and 8th Avenue), NYC. For tickets, visit hadestown.com or call 877-250-2929.