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Meet the Tony Nominees: André De Shields of ‘Hadestown’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“You have got to be able to be your own sounding board.”

André De Shields plays Hermes, messenger to the Gods in the hit musical Hadestown. Nominated for 14 Tony Awards, the innovative musical is based on the myth of Orpheus. Anaïs Mitchell wrote the book, lyrics and music, which has roots in American folk music and New Orleans jazz. Hadestown was also developed and directed by Tony-nominated director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812). De Shields has had a prolific career as a performer, director, novelist, choreographer, lyricist, composer and professor. Spanning five decades, it includes starring roles in The WizAin’t Misbehavin’Play On!, and The Full Monty. Hadestown marks De Shields’ third Tony nomination. He also won an Emmy Outstanding Special Achievement for a broadcast of Ain't Misbehavin’ on NBC. 

Three-time Tony Nominee André De Shields in ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Three-time Tony Nominee André De Shields in ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Why do you adore being in Hadestown? 
André De Shields: What I love about Hadestown is the collaboration between Rachel Chavkin – whom I call Chavkin, The Great – and Anaïs Mitchell, whom I call Anaïs, the prophetess. Their collaboration is so sensitive, so intelligent, so smart. It makes these long hours not a piece of cake, but a very enjoyable task. It is a task to take this Greek myth and peel it like an onion, which we do with all ideas in the theater, and reveal the most basic concepts of our humanity. Everybody wants someone to love and for that someone to love them back. But the introduction of the timeless particle of doubt can ruin an entire relationship.

Your character, Hermes, seems to be the soul of Hadestown.
ADS: Hermes is a messenger to the Gods. I love that he is a shape-shifter. He’s a trickster. He is the messenger, which also means servant to the gods. But as if it were a Shakespearean tragedy, he’s also the conscience of the gods. He is the one who chaperones people who go to Hadestown. He sends both Eurydice and Orpheus on their journey there.

Can you talk about your Broadway debut?
ADS: My Broadway debut was in 1973 on Valentine’s Day. I had come from Chicago in a show called Warp!, which was billed as the world’s first science fiction episodic adventure. It was summarily dismissed by the critics. We ran for two weeks, and the company who created it and produced it went back to Chicago. But there I was in New York, which was where I wanted to be anyway. My salad days where ahead of me. Struggle. Struggle. Starving. That sort of thing.

What was one of your earliest memories of performing?
ADS: I remember being in my backyard on a little patch of dirt, by myself. My older siblings and my parents always described me as a solitary person, who was having fun all by himself. But I was creating these alter egos that I would speak to. And they would speak to me. And I have continued that discipline these many years later when I work on Broadway, Off-Broadway or on other stages.

What is something you learned in your career that has stayed with you?
ADS: You have got to be able to be your own sounding board. As subjective as this industry is, you also have to be able to be objective. Because otherwise you get totally distressed by the daily rejection and insecurity. They are the only two things that are guaranteed. So, you have to have that person who is always at your side traveling with you, just like Eurydice and Orpheus are sidekicks on the road. There is that inner voice that always speaks truth to you quietly. You have to get rid of the distractions to hear it. 


For more of the best of Broadway, check out our complete list of the 2019 Tony Award Nominees.

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