“It’s a sad tale… But we sing it anyway”: Exploring the Intersections between Retellings and Utopian Performatives in Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown (2019) (pp. 9-31)
Irati Aguirrezabalaga Berra
University of Salamanca
In a contemporary musical theatre landscape where retellings are resurfacing and acquiring attention from producers because of the familiarity they might offer to audiences (see Taylor and Symonds 2014), Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown (2019) is one of the latest successes in the Broadway industry. A sung-through contemporary folk musical directed by Rachel Chavkin, the musical offers a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, a tragic love story that narrates Orpheus’ journey into the underworld in order to save Eurydice. An aspect that particularly stands out in the musical is the role hope plays in it, both within the narrative and the medium of storytelling itself. The musical establishes Orpheus as the embodiment of hope for social change, as well as engaging in politics of hope and resistance by telling the story again and again even though it ends tragically, and both the audience and the characters know that.
Considering this, the article attempts to examine the potential relationship between retellings and Jill Dolan’s “utopian performatives” (2005), contending that although as she argues they cannot be predicted and the concept was not originally applied specifically to retellings, the latter offer a perfect vehicle to engender the former. In order to explore this relationship in Mitchell’s Hadestown, the article will depart mainly from a narrative, textual, and performance analysis that will explore the ways in which the piece uses elements that range from the narratives portrayed to costumes and historical references used to challenge and contest the hegemony of the original sources. Ultimately, this article will argue that the aspects above mentioned can potentially engender utopian performatives throughout the performance that might inspire the audiences to consider different, better possibilities for both the past and the future, thus establishing retellings in musical theatre as potentially transformative.
Keywords: Hadestown; musical theatre; utopian performatives; retellings
Irati Aguirrezabalaga Berra completed her undergraduate studies in English at the University of Salamanca and her MA in Drama and Performance Studies at University College Dublin. She is doing her PhD at the University of Salamanca, where she focuses on musical theatre and its relationship to fandoms. She is interested in contemporary musical theatre, gender and queer studies, drama, and popular culture.
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adler, Steven. 2004. On Broadway: Art and Commerce on the Great White Way. United States of America: Southern Illinois University Press.
Beam, Michael. 2015. “The Language of Agency in the Hymn to Demeter.” The PhalloEccentric. Web. <https://thephalloeccentric.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/the-language-of-agency-in-the-hymn-to-demeter/ > [Accessed June 28th 2021].
Ben Harris. “Hadestown Curtain Call and We Raise Our Cups 7/20/2019 (Evening)”, youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yMnVYYuyNo, [accessed 3 June 2021].
Bennett, Susan.1990. Theatre Audiences: A theory of Production and Reception. London and New York: Routledge.
Boal, Augusto. 2008. Theatre of the Oppressed. Pluto Press.
Bogart, Anne. 2014. What’s the Story: Essays about Art, Theatre and Storytelling. New York: Routledge.
Case, Sue-Ellen.1988. Theatre and Feminism. London: Routledge.
Coleman, Bud. 2017. “New Horizons: The Musical at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century”. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical. Eds, William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1:8.
Diamond, Elin. 1988. “Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism”, TDR. 32:1.
Dolan, Jill. 1988. The Feminist Spectator as Critic. University of Michigan Press.
Dolan, Jill. 2005. Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater. University of Michigan Press.
Evans, Greg. 2021. March On Broadway Protesters Call for Greater Industry Inclusion & Diversity, Scott Rudin Ouster- Update (Deadline). Web. https://deadline.com/2021/04/march-on-broadway-list-of-demands-producer-scott-rudin-actors-equity-broadway-league-1234739584/, [accessed May 1 2021].
Giroux, Henry A. 2003. “Utopian Thinking Under the Sign of Neoliberalism: Towards a Critical Pedagogy of Educated Hope”. Democracy and Nature, 9:1.
Hadestown. 2020. “Tonight, on #WorldTheatreDay, we raise our cups and dream of a day when we can once again gather together to share an old tale from way back when. #SpringWillComeAgain” Facebook. Web. https://fb.watch/5XeKT4Tslk/
Hard, Robin. 2004. The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s “Handbook of Greek Mythology.” Routledge.
Hiltner, Elsa. 2021. Chris Jones Once Again Fails The Theatre Industry (OnStage Blog). Web. https://www.onstageblog.com/editorials/2021/4/28/chris-jones, [accessed May 9 2021].
Hutcheon, Linda. 2006. A Theory of Adaptation. Routledge.
Jones, Chris. 2021. Column: Broadway’s capitalist model isn’t perfect, but here’s why it works, and what can be fixed (Chicago Tribune). Web. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/chris-jones/ct-ent-case-for-capitalist-broadway-20210422-fr7tpsvohnavxfdfuedynzwkuu-story.html, [accessed 29 April 2021].
Joseph, Miranda. 2002. Against the Romance of Community. University of Minnesota Press.
Kenrick, John. 2008. Musical Theatre: A History. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
Larson, Rob. 2018. Capitalism Vs. Freedom: The Road to Serfdom. Zero Books.
Lewis, Christian. 2021. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Broadway’s Jagged Little Journey Toward Nonbinary Inclusion (The Brooklyn Rail). Web. https://brooklynrail.org/2021/04/theater/One-Step-Forward-Two-Steps-Back-Broadways-Jagged-Little-Journey-Toward-Nonbinary-Inclusion, [accessed May 9 2021].
Nolan, Peter. 2007. Capitalism and Freedom: The Contradictory Character of Globalisation. Anthem press.
Mitchell, Anaïs. 2020. Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown. Penguin Random House.
Mouffe, Chantal. 1991. “Democratic Citizenship and the Political Community.” Community at Loose Ends, eds. Miami Theory Collective. University of Minnesota Press.
Mulvey, Laura. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Screen 16:3 6-18.
Phelan, Peggy. 1988. “Feminist Theory, Postructuralism, and Performance”. TDR, 32:1, 107-127.
Schehr, Robert C. 1997. Dynamic Utopia: Establishing Intentional Communities as a New Social Movement, Bergin and Garvey.
Scott, Jeremy. 2021. “Restorying: The Creative Act of Retelling”. Narrative Retellings: Stylistic Approaches, eds. Marina Lambrou. Bloomsbury Academic.
Siegel, Tatiana. Everyone Just Knows He’s an Absolute Monster’: Scott Rudin’s Ex-Staffers Speak Out on Abusive Behaviour (The Hollywood Reporter). Web. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/everyone-just-knows-hes-an-absolute-monster-scott-rudins-ex-staffers-speak-out-on-abusive-behavior-4161883/, [accessed 29 April 2021].
Snyder-Young, Dani. 2013. Theatre of Good Intentions: Challenges and Hopes for Theatre and Social Change. Palgrave McMillan.
Solga, Kim. 2016. Theatre and Feminism. Red Globe Press.
Speer, Annika C. 2010. “Reviewed Work(s): Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works by Sharon Friedman.” TDR, vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 232-234.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? Bashingstoke, Macmillan.
Taylor, Millie and Dominic Symonds. 2014. Studying Musical Theatre: Theory and Practice. Red Globe Press.
Wolf, Stacy. 2011. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford University Press.
Woolford, Julian. 2013. How Musicals Work (and how to write your own). Nick Hern Books.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.