INTERVIEW: Hadestown’s Chibueze Ihouma joins Atlanta News First
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The national tour of the hit musical Hadestown is coming to Atlanta this week! The musical will be at the Fox Theatre Jan. 10-14. The musical adapts the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the Depression-era United States via music and lyrics by songwriter Anaïs Mitchell.
Chibueze Ihouma, who plays Orpheus in the show, talked to Atlanta News First about what makes the show special and why it resonates with so many people.
You can find out more about the show here and read the interview below!
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Atlanta News First: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Chibueze Ihouma: I’m originally from Jersey, went to school at NYU, and then a little bit after graduating got onto this tour. I’ve been with it since last year, October. Before going on tour, I pretty much only knew that little tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. So pretty much every place that I’ve been going to has been a new experience. It has been very lovely to just see, one, how large our country is in like a literal sense. Like, “oh, wow, these are completely different climates and different like everything.” It’s been really fun traveling around with these different people. I was also a huge fan of the show before getting onto it. So it was a bit of like a dream come true kind of moment, where I was like–one even just to be a part of it, but then until later on, be playing Orpheus I just feel really grateful about that. Random fun fact, my favorite nut is pistachio.
Atlanta News First: So tell us a bit about your history with the show.
Chibueze Ihouma: Well, actually, I first attempted to audition for it in the peak of like the show’s popularity in like what was that maybe like? Late 2020–
Atlanta News First: Beginning of the pandemic, maybe?
Chibueze Ihouma: Yeah, exactly, exactly. That’s when I first went in. First, I just walked into an open call. Because at the time being the green actor I was, I had an agent but I didn’t fully understand how that relationship worked in that. I thought “oh, they’ll just send me stuff. And I’ll just go in and do my own thing.” It’s like, “oh, no, you’re supposed to collaborate with them, let them know you’re interested in stuff.” So then they were like, “Hey, can you come to this audition?” I was like, “I wish I could but I’m waiting at the Hadestown open call to try to be seen.” And they’re like, “why are you waiting at the Hadestown open call? Don’t worry. Go to another audition we’ll take care of Hadestown.” And then I got an appointment to go in. And I was like, oh my god!
That was the first moment I was just like, ah, learning. I did a whole bunch of rounds of auditions specifically for Orpheus. But a lot of the people were fully in the running were seasoned Broadway actors. So when I got to like that final callback, they went “Yeah, we really, really like you, you’re really great. It’s just that you haven’t led a show of this magnitude. And when we brought on make sure that like this gets off the ground, very strong.” But then they were very open to ensemble members and ensemble understudy Orpheus, which is what ended up being cast as. That didn’t happen until later on because [of] the pandemic. The Broadway shutdown was on the day of the final call back.
Atlanta News First: Oh no!
Chibueze Ihouma: [The studio] was just complete emptiness. They didn’t know what to do in terms of like the chemistry reads and stuff like that, so they’re like “uh, just sing from opposite sides of the room?”
Atlanta News First: So for people who might not know what Hadestown is, or even the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Tell us a bit about the show. What is it about?
Yeah so the baseline of the show, as you said, is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. And in classic Greek canon, Orpheus is sometimes a demigod, sometimes just normal person with godly abilities. And he is blessed with the gift of music. He’s this virtuous singer, as well as very skilled lyre player or modern-day guitar. And his power of music is so great that it makes inanimate objects move and almost dance along with his song. And he falls in love with this woman, this nymph named Eurydice. They are madly in love with each other. Everything’s going great until she’s bitten by a snake. Then she dies and Orpheus is so sad that he can’t imagine living without her. So he travels into the underworld with the gift of his song to let him in and convinces the King of the Underworld Hades to let him try to bring her back.
In our version of the story, we kind of recontextualize a lot of things. Both Orpheus and Eurydice are mortal, but they live in this kind of like 1930s Depression-era Rust Belt-type America, and they’re both poor. Eurydice is more of a wanderer going from place to place. When they meet, they fall in love with each other, yes, but there are some issues of the world around them. It’s always extremely hot or cold. And that’s because, in our story, we also couple the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice with the tale of Hades and Persephone. Hades married the goddess of springtime, but she can only be with him in the underworld for six months of the year so that we can have spring and summer when she’s above ground. And because of issues with their relationship, it messes up the seasons. So Orpheus is trying to make a song to fix the seasons, but Eurydice’s like, “ah, we need to survive and like figure out how we’re going to do things.” Thus the friction, thus the conflict. In our version of the story, instead of it being something like a snake bite or some type of death she couldn’t control. Eurydice has the choice whether to go to Hadestown. In this retelling, Hadestown is kind of like this factory town where you get employed, but at what cost? And that’s for you to see when you come see the show.
Atlanta News First: So what I’ve noticed over the last few years is there’s been a bunch of different retellings of the myth. It’s not just the musical itself. It’s the album based off of that came out in 2010. Orpheus and Eurydice played a major part in a video game that came out recently. So what about this myth, even just at its base level? Why is it resonating now?
I think people always love underdog-type stories. It’s funny in some ways to see Orpheus as an underdog because like I said, he has these godly powers and this and that. But at the end of the day, he’s still fully mortal. And he’s walking amongst all of these gods. He’s not like Hercules, where he has the strength of a god to do all these cool things and move mountains. He’s like, “really all I have is my voice.” And I think the reason that resonates with people today is that we see ourselves in that, but also we understand what it means to be moved by music in such a way. We understand what it means to make music borne out of some type of intense emotion or intense experience that you’ve had in the past. So the story of Orpheus [who loved] someone so much that he sang his way into like, the underworld and he stands before the mightiest of kings and gods who can easily just smite him down. But he says, “Please let me bring her back. I’m gonna sing this song to you.” And that god, despite everything about him, telling him that “No, I shouldn’t be respecting this tiny mortal, I should just do what I want to,” He’s moved by that. And I think in our world today, there’s so much that we can find as wrong in the world. Themes in the show like climate change, [and] how certain structures of our like economies specifically, like mixed in with government, we want to have our voices heard. We want to be able to stand up to injustice being done. Whether from like a class standpoint, from a racial standpoint, we want to be able to stand up to those and say, “Actually, no, this is wrong. This is how the world could be.” And I think the fact that music is the thing that makes that change is something that people resonate with a lot.
Atlanta News First: How does the musical stand out from other forms of the myth such as the original concept album?
Chibueze Ihouma: They added different scenes within songs and there’ll be a little bit of story things happen. For instance, right before “Wedding Song” is this really cute scene between Orpheus, Eurydice and Hermes, where Orpheus is first trying to introduce himself to Eurydice. He just comes out with his full heart and then she’s just like, who are you? So there’s like, lots of moments like that. And then within “Wedding Song”, there’s a bit of a continuation of that banter that back and forth in more scene form. So from an actor standpoint, that’s, I’d say, the main difference.
The second biggest thing is that lots of songs keep their musical core with the lyrics are very different. “Any Way The Wind Blows” for instance, that was a song that Anaïs had written and then eventually decided oh, like, actually, let me try to use this in Hadestown. And it has a lot of very poetic verses and lines. They have all these very poetic verses and lines, well, and as beautiful as they are, It’s hard to push the plot forward on just full poetry alone. And so the lyrics are contextualized to kind of to help the main plot points come to the front, as opposed to being beautiful verses of poetry that you’d want to read, listen to, and then eventually dissect you the goal is now that like on the first listen, you can get pretty much all the plot points. And then when you listen again and again, [you notice] “Oh, here, there’s this callback to this.” In “Any Way The Wind Blows,” Eurydice says, “People turn on you just like the wind.” When you first hear that you’re like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. She’s talking about how she can’t trust anybody. And then you know the show and then you’re like–
Atlanta News First: Okay, I see where this is going.
Chibueze Ihouma: Exactly.
Atlanta News First: What has [the touring experience] been like, for you?
Chibueze Ihouma: Oh, man, it’s been, it’s been a wild, wild time. It’s also been a big learning experience for me. There are different kinds of tours. There are some tours where you’ll stay in like a place for six months, eight months, or like, you won’t go to too many cities, but like, you’ll be in them for a while. Our tour is more of l a band’s type of tour. We’re going to a different city pretty much every single week, playing in completely new places, seeing as much of everything that we could possibly see. It’s been definitely a challenge for me personally because I’m very much a homebody kind of person. So I can go to this beach, or go to these bars or go to museums, but I probably would prefer to, you know, chill at home.
So that’s, it’s a little bit hard sometimes. When you’re going from hotel to hotel, and as a homebody, that aspect of tour can make you feel very isolated, especially from people back home. But I think the tour gets to really shine the most in two ways. One in terms of the audiences. We get to have experiences where it’s as because in New York–by now especially–but even like when it was really popular, a lot of people already knew about Hadestown. Maybe they listened to the cast album, Maybe it’s their second or third or fourth viewing of the show. On tour, it’s brand new for them. Or they listened to that album and fell in love with it, but this is their first time getting to see it in person. The kind of energy that you get from audiences like that is completely unmatched and this is very much a show where we rely a lot on audience engagement and energy. It’s a very reciprocal kind of relationship as opposed to just we’re giving you this story. It’s like no, we want you to come with us on this journey. And so that’s one very rewarding and to when I do end up being able to get out and go places. It’s always very fun and I’m always like, wow, I should do this more.
Atlanta News First: What’s your favorite song to sing in the show?
Chibueze Ihouma: I love singing “Wedding Song” in the show. It’s one of the first few numbers.
Atlanta News First: What is your favorite song in the musical that Orpheus is not involved in?
Chibueze Ihouma: I love “Way Down Hadestown.” I love “Our Lady Of The Underground.” Anaïs and [director Rachel Chavkin] and the full creative team were very about letting everyone have their own interpretation of these characters So all of our different understudies and leads have completely different interpretations of each character. And so when it comes to “Road To Hell,” my favorite thing has always just been hearing how each Hermes will attack that song because it’s so freeform.
Atlanta News First: If somebody decides to dive deeper into this show, go back and listen to the cast album or the concept album, what do you try to do to make yourself stick out as Orpheus in someone’s head?
Chibueze Ihouma: I try to do a couple of things. Even though this might sound counter to what you would think to do, I love listening to all these different versions and then just being like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do that.”
There’s this one little riff thing that Damon Daunno from the Off-Broadway cast does somewhere in the middle of “Epic III” on the “see how he labors” he does this little like, lift up? And I was like, “hmm, it seems like no one is doing that. We’re gonna bring it back.” Or just like the general kind of almost bluesy, laid-back ish vibe that Justin Vernon had on the original “Wedding Song.” That might be a bit of a challenge to incorporate into this version of the show, but I’m up for it.
I think I try to bring a lot of soulfulness to Orpheus in the songs that allow for it. So in something like a “Wedding Song,” something like a “Living It Up On Top,” even a little bit in “Chant,” I try to add a little bit of soul texture to it. And then on the flip side, when I hear those Epics, I immediately think of three people. I think of Justin Vernon, I think of Jeff Buckley and I think of Labrinth. He composed the score for Euphoria on HBO.
Atlanta News First: That’s a very interesting trio of influences!
Chibueze Ihouma: They’re all wildly different. But I think there’s a certain purity and lightness that each of them bring to their falsetto work. And that is the kind of thing I try to strive for when I’m doing the Epics. Especially because I love how it makes the Epics contrast so strongly, both to Orpheus, the rest of his stuff, and all the stuff in the show. One of the big things that brought me to the show was just the fact that when I first heard the album, I was just like, “huh, I don’t think I know, a male lead for a Broadway show that sings mostly in his falsetto.” And that’s the main selling point. So I was just like, why not lean into that? I think there’s a real beauty and adds a really nice texture to the show as a whole. Keeping those moments. Very pure, very light, I think that gives it a kind of otherworldly feel. And so yeah, that’s one thing I like to do.
I found it really interesting [with] how musical something like the Epics are even though I feel like normally you can sing it very freely. But honestly, there’s something really nice when it’s kind of in the meter and it kind of goes along. So those two things within the Epics are the things I try to bring. And then otherwise it’s just like, I’m just a completely different person than all these other guys that have played the part. So naturally, things are gonna come out. It’s always gonna be different from actor to actor.
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