Tony Award darling “Hadestown”: A Vermont origin story

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At this year’s Tony Awards, the most nominated show, “Hadestown,” has strong roots in Vermont.

“This is a draft from October of 2012. The show has changed quite a bit since then,” said Ben T. Matchstick in his Montpelier studio, while thumbing through a binder full of scripts.

Matchstick has saved all kinds of artifacts from the early stages of “Hadestown” development, including books that served as research and source material and sketches.

“These are some of the design sketches I had in mind creating the world, long staircases. There’s beautiful staircases in the show of course,” he said.

For Matchstick, the evolution from Vermont stage show to Broadway hit started with a conversation with a friend, Anais Mitchell, more than ten years ago.

“She told me she wanted to do this folk opera that was based on the Orpheus myth and I was really into mythology and the two of us just started riffing,” he remembered.

Mitchell, who is also a Vermonter, is nominated for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.

In total, her show is nominated for 14 awards, including Best Musical.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic future.

In the show, Orpheus is on a mission to save his lover Eurydice from a place called Hadestown in the underworld.

It’s part Greek tragedy – part reflection of the American dream with a political twist.

“Anais mentioned that she was going to call the show Hadestown and I immediately knew, that is a great title,” said Matchstick. “That kind of encapsulates the whole world. It gives us a clear vision of what we’re going into. It’s kind of a fierce kind of sound. My first real reaction was ‘It’s going to win a Tony’.”

Over the years, Mitchell developed the show and a concept album. For that, she applied for grant money.

“We usually do community work and we don’t do ‘things.’ We took a chance on a ‘thing.’ I think everybody who was associated with that grant back in the day was very happy that we did and watched how hard Anais has worked,” said Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council.

At the time of the grant given to Mitchell, he ran the Vermont Arts Endowment Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation.

It awarded Mitchell $2,000 for the album.

Other early funders include the Vermont Arts Council and Higher Ground.

The show played at the Old Labor Hall in Barre, and went off-Broadway in Canada and London.

For Ilstrup and Matchstick, seeing the show on Broadway was a source of immense pride.

“You’re sort of crying all the way through it thinking about what it was like to see Anais performing these songs in barns way back in 2007-2008 and to see it now, to see the marquee in front of the theatre in Times Square,” said Ilstrup.

“You say like ‘Oh, I put that in place.’ ‘I put that in place.’ These are all decisions that we made a long time ago and some of them have stuck in so firmly that they continue to this day,” said Matchstick.

Matchstick says the show and its evolution should inspire all Vermonters.

“It has a very Vermont flavor. I think in the way that people look to Vermont for their products and for the value of their products, Hadestown represents this kind of cultural product that I think the creatives in Vermont are capable of,” said Matchstick.

In addition to Mitchell’s nominations, another Vermonter and member of the early developing team, Michael Chorny, is nominated for Best Orchestrations.

The Tony Awards are held June 9th.

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