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Meet The Tony Winners: Rachel Chavkin of ‘Hadestown’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Rachel Chavkin reveals why she just had to direct ‘Hadestown’

The Tony-winning Best Musical Hadestown follows two couples. There are the young lovers: Orpheus and Eurydice. Then there are the more time-weary Hades and Persephone. This powerful, saucy retelling of the Greek myth is all about the lengths to which we go for love. With music, lyrics and a book by Anaïs Mitchell, the musical’s songs feature a variety of styles and genres. Imagine New Orleans dixie jazz, pop rock and folk combined with mind-blowingly poetic lyrics. The talented cast includes Eva Noblezada, Reeve Carney, Amber Gray, André De Shields and Patrick Page. Hadestown won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical, as well as a Tony for director Rachel Chavkin. Chavkin, who was instrumental in helping to develop Hadestown, is one of the most ferociously talented directors working in the theater. She was the only woman to direct a musical on Broadway this season. In addition to directing Hadestown, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Small Mouth Sounds and The Royale, she is an Artistic Director of the theater company, The TEAM.


Rachel Chavkin won a Tony for directing ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Rachel Chavkin won a Tony for directing ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

When you first learned about Hadestown, what went through your mind?
Rachel Chavkin: Anaïs and I met in 2012. She had been working on the piece since 2006 as this DIY community theater project in Vermont. The first thing that I heard in 2012 was the album that she recorded in 2010. The first thing I fell in love with was the music. I could not believe the richness of this score – Anaïs’ poetry and music, and Todd Sickafoose and Michael Chorney’s orchestrations. It all blew me away. I fell in love with the music. And then, I had to work on it. The score is unlike anything that I've ever heard on Broadway.

What do you love about the story?
RC: Hope is actually one of the things I love most about the piece. The line I always think about, which always makes me cry, is: “Everybody looked, and everybody saw that spring had come again.” There’s the act of daring to tell the story again – daring to fall in love again. Even though we know there is heartbreak. And even though we tell you at the beginning that what you’re watching is a tragedy, there is this incredible success story amid the tragedy. It’s the success of retelling the tale. I find that incredibly moving. It’s a beautiful container for the love stories that the pieces is about.

When did you know you had to be a director?
RC: I was always bossy. But I started making my own work when I was a sophomore in college at New York University. I had an incredibly amazing teacher, an experimental choreographer named Marlene Pennison. And I took a class with her called C.O.W. – creating original work. The assignment was to be interesting alone on stage for 10 minutes. That was insane. It was the best class I ever had. It was this underground class. You didn't even get graded for it, but that was what really fired me. You could take the class as many times as you wanted, because you weren't getting graded. It was just Marlene putting you in the crisis of your own process.

In Hadestown, there is the poignant song, “Why We Build the Wall,” with the lyrics: “Why do we build the wall? We build the wall to keep us free.”
RC: It’s the idea that strong men around the world seek to preserve their power by making us feel alone. It’s a very striking song. It was relevant in the ancient world when the story was written, and feels as potent today. Also, there’s the theme of solidarity and needing to maintain hope. Even in the face of winter, in the face of darkness, when you are feeling like you are walking alone, there is the hope and faith that your lover is behind you. Or your fellow human is walking alongside you. That is a really deep lesson of the show.

The show feels so rich and full, yet there’s an economy, in that the stage isn’t overrun with sets and props.
RC: That’s the poetry piece versus prose piece. That is the first thing that Anaïs said to me: “Poetry, at its root, is an essentialized form.” There is no word or image that is misplaced in a good poem. So it felt very important that the physical production and the visual life of the production matched the essential nature of the writing.

If somebody were to ask, “Why should I see Hadestown?,” what would you say?
RC: Audiences can come seeking many things. But two things in particular: one is some of the most extraordinary music you'll ever hear. The score to this piece is totally singular. Also, this piece makes an exquisite promise through these two love stories. One is young, naive and delicate. The other is ancient, ruined and hardened. There’s a way those two couples find life, and come back to life, over the course of this piece. People are going to recognize themselves in one or both of those couples. I hope they come seeking it.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in August 2019.

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