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'Hadestown' Returns To Broadway

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we head back to Broadway. Two musicals recently returned to the center of America's theatrical universe after a year and a half of theaters being closed. One of them was the Tony Award-winning show "Hadestown." Reporter Jeff Lunden followed its return from the very first rehearsal back to opening night.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The scene - a rehearsal room in a nondescript midtown Manhattan office building.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Laughter).

LUNDEN: It's August 9. And for the first time in 17 months, the cast and staff of "Hadestown" is getting together. It's a cross between a family reunion and the first day of school, and everyone is wearing a mask. Rachel Chavkin, the show's director, who's carrying her infant son, asks people to gather in a circle.

RACHEL CHAVKIN: So I thought we would go around first and actually do names.

LUNDEN: There are breathing exercises.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOREOGRAPHER: In.

(SOUNDBITE OF INHALING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOREOGRAPHER: Out.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXHALING)

LUNDEN: Then Anais Mitchell, the show's writer, teaches the group an Irish folk song.

ANAIS MITCHELL: (Singing) Let union be in all our hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Let union be in all our hearts.

LUNDEN: John Krause is a member of the chorus, and he's also the understudy for the lead role of Orpheus. He well remembers the night everything closed.

JOHN KRAUSE: My parents were actually in town in New York to see me go on for the lead. And actually, Broadway shut down the night I was supposed to go on for Orpheus (laughter). So, yeah, it was a tough time.

LUNDEN: Krause moved back to California and taught guitar and theater classes on Zoom.

KRAUSE: And now I'm back here, and it feels surreal. I had a good cry.

LUNDEN: "Hadestown" is a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, where the underworld is run by a multimillionaire who exploits his workers, despoils the environment and builds a wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Hades, singing) Why do we build the wall, my children, my children? Why do we build the wall?

LUNDEN: After an early rehearsal, Eva Noblezada, who plays Eurydice, says everyone in the production is being especially sensitive.

EVA NOBLEZADA: To go forward and feel what we need to feel and say what we need to say in order for us to be safe and realize that we're doing our best to create a Broadway that isn't like the Broadway before.

LUNDEN: Production stage manager Beverly Jenkins knows what Broadway was like before. She's been working on shows since the 1990s. She says there's a great vibe in rehearsal.

BEVERLY JENKINS: People are happy to see each other. They're happy to revisit the work. They're happy, once they revisit it, to get into the nitty-gritty and the details of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN TUNING)

LUNDEN: And less than two weeks later, everyone's back in the theater. There's a band rehearsal in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED CONDUCTOR: A one, two, a one, two...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUNDEN: That afternoon, the cast assembles onstage to painstakingly work through the show.

CHAVKIN: You ready?

UNIDENTIFIED CONDUCTOR: We are ready.

CHAVKIN: Great.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) And on the road to hell, there was a line waiting.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (As characters, singing) Waiting.

LUNDEN: Chorus member John Krause says that's when the muscle memory kicked in.

KRAUSE: It's like, oh, I remember how to do this. My voice remembers the notes that I'm singing. My body remembers how to hit the positions I need to hit and where I need to be onstage.

LUNDEN: And offstage, Beverly Jenkins calls cues while bopping to the music.

JENKINS: Go. Eyes to 19.

LUNDEN: And before they knew it, it was opening night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) It's an old song.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (As characters, singing) It's an old song.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) It's an old tale from way back when. It's an old song.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (As characters, singing) It's an old song.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) And we're going to sing it again.

LUNDEN: A thousand masked and vaccinated people packed the Walter Kerr Theatre for the show's return, stopping it several times for standing ovations. One line, a toast by the character Orpheus seemed to resonate particularly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Orpheus) To the world we dream about and the one we live in now.

(APPLAUSE)

LUNDEN: After a prolonged curtain call, the cast came outside and serenaded the audience from the fire escape.

CAST OF HADESTOWN: (Singing) We all need somebody to lean on.

LUNDEN: Eva Noblezada.

NOBLEZADA: It's nice to know that, like, people are so invested as much I think as we are. I really do feel like New York audiences, or at least now after these eight months, want to really experience something fully.

KRAUSE: It felt like we were the Beatles at Madison Square Garden or something.

LUNDEN: Chorus member John Krause.

KRAUSE: You know, it just felt like they were waiting on every word.

JENKINS: We made it. Reopening night.

LUNDEN: Stage manager Beverly Jenkins says she was astonished by the audience response.

JENKINS: What they were crazy for was everything top to bottom.

LUNDEN: Eva Noblezada said that after the whirlwind of the past month, she could nap for 15 years. But what she really needed to do was unwind and rest up for a four-performance weekend. Broadway is coming back.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Singing) Hound dog howl, and the whistle blow. Train come a-rolling, clickety-clack. Everybody trying to get a ticket to go. But those who go - they don't come back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.