How leading Tony nominee 'Hadestown' took shape at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre
'Everyone is super-excited and just really proud'
Tony Award fever has hit Edmonton where set builders, lighting experts and other theatre artists who helped shape the smash Hadestown are revelling in the musical's leading 14 nominations.
The retelling of the Greek myth was partly developed at the Citadel Theatre, which staged the celebrated show for about three weeks in November 2017 and helped hammer out its set and lighting elements.
Artistic director Daryl Cloran says staff are buzzing about the nominations, which include best musical, and nods for Brooklyn-based director Rachel Chavkin and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, who is in the running for best original score and best book of a musical.
"Everyone is super-excited and just really proud," Cloran said Tuesday when reached in Vancouver, where he was directing Shakespeare in Love.
"It was a giant show for us, it was a lot of work and very, very ambitious but every single member of our production staff was so proud of what we achieved with that production and the relationships they built — getting to work with now-Tony-nominated designers, we were playing with people that are at the top of their game and that was super-exciting for us."
Hadestown traces Orpheus' quest to regain the favour of his love, Eurydice. Its long road to the Tonys began as a community theatre project in New York in 2006, and then a concept album in 2010, a music-heavy off-Broadway production in 2016, and then a more traditional theatre production in Edmonton.
It then went to London and finally New York's Great White Way.
Cloran says Hadestown transformed dramatically during its Canadian run Nov. 11 to Dec. 3, 2017, when it shifted from a sparsely set, concert-like show at the New York Theatre Workshop to one that included a variety of ambitious production elements including a revolving stage.
Executive director Chantell Ghosh says that circular piece — which rotated in one direction while an outer ring rotated in the other direction — was "an exercise in artistry and science" to make sure the revolutions matched the music and choreography.
Meanwhile, it was a challenge to design just the right lighting to establish above-ground scenes on Earth and below-ground scenes in Hades.
"Literally that set was changing every day and all of a sudden you're telling your carpenters: 'We need a railroad track.' 'OK, now we don't need a railroad track, now we need something different.'
"And it was a huge challenge but at the same time it was such a wonderful delicious panic to try and just be responsive and create the quality of work that the piece really demanded," says Ghosh, explaining the crew's relationship with Hadestown's New York designers as "collaborative."
The version that hit London's National Theatre evolved yet again for the larger space, and Edmonton's double revolving stage became a triple revolving stage with an elevator that could spin and sink into the ground.
Neither Ghosh nor Cloran have seen the Broadway version but they say many Edmonton elements remain, including costumes, lighting and Canadian actress Jewelle Blackman who plays one of the Fates.
'That exists in Edmonton?'
Ghosh says the talent in Edmonton is a surprise to many.
"When people come here and see the size of our carpentry shop and they see the skills of our props department, they're like, 'What? That exists in Canada? That exists in Edmonton?" she chuckles.
"We have one of the most talented, experienced and skilled creators of sets. We have wonderful designers, of course, but our carpenters and our scenic painters and our electricians that work and bring those designs to life are, I'm going to brag and say, they're second to none and that is the feedback we got from the Hadestown team."
Cloran notes that while shows that do well off-Broadway typically head out-of-town to prepare for a possible Broadway run, they don't often go to Edmonton.
"I called (the producers) and said, 'Instead of going to Chicago or Boston how about you come to Edmonton?' And they laughed and laughed,"' Cloran jokes, noting Edmonton "was not on their radar" and that he had to convince producers over several conversations.
"Ultimately it was exactly what they needed ... and it also gave them just a little bit of anonymity to be a little off-the-beaten path (and) a chance to experiment."
Gamble pays off
That gamble seems to have paid off for everyone involved.
Cloran says their upcoming season includes the London/West End hit SIX, about six wives of Henry VIII who "take to the mic to tell their tales, remixing 500 years of historical heartbreak."
"Because of Hadestown we're able to build some really exciting international relationships now," says Cloran.
"To be able to say that a show that was developed in part at the Citadel is now nominated for 14 Tonys, that really puts the Citadel and Edmonton on the map as a place where exciting theatre is being developed internationally."
Ghosh says Citadel staff are already planning a Tony watching party when the trophies are handed out June 9, crediting the team with putting "their heart and their soul and all their skills into working on that show."