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“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that will explore the ways in which the piece uses elements that range from the narratives portrayed to costumes and historical references used to challenge and contest the hegemony of the original sources.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: iratiab97@gmail.com


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