Brow Beat

Hadestown’s Tonys Triumph Was a Win for Women

Amber Graces dances in a green dress.
Amber Gray as Persephone in Hadestown.
Matthew Murphy

As the cast of Hadestown performed “Wait For Me” at the Tony Awards on Sunday, the Fates asked Orpheus, “Who are you to think that you can walk a road that no one ever walked before?” The Greek hero may not have answered their query, but by the end of the night, the women of Hadestown resoundingly had. Not only did the show walk away with eight awards, the most of any production this year, it also demonstrated and centered the power of women’s perspectives in theater, both on and off the stage.

Several of the awards Hadestown racked up on Sunday night were rare, even unprecedented, victories for women. Hadestown is the only Best Musical winner in history with an exclusively female writer-director team, Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin, respectively. Jessica Paz, who won for Best Sound Design of a Musical with Nevin Steinberg, was the first woman ever to be nominated in the category, while Mitchell became only the second solo woman to win the Tony for Best Score. Chavkin was the fourth ever female winner in the Best Director of a Musical category, a win made all the more poignant by the fact that, as she pointed out in a fierce acceptance speech, she is the only woman from the 2019–2020 Broadway season to direct a musical at all. “There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go,” she said. “It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be. So let’s do it.”

The power of women in Hadestown radiates not only from behind the scenes, but also onstage. Hadestown’s book tweaks the original myths to give its principal female characters more agency, with Hades wooing Persephone rather than abducting her, and Eurydice making the ill-advised choice to go to Hadestown herself, rather than falling prey to a snake bite. They’re not victims of fate but fully realized, flawed, complex characters whose journeys become all the more human and healing for it. The strength of the writing is matched only by the performances: Eva Noblezada breathes tenderness and toughness into Eurydice, and Amber Gray channels both rage and renewal as Persephone, with each bringing precise physicality and emotive voice to the stage. Both earned Tony nominations, and while neither won their respective races, the significance of their work speaks for itself, awards or no.

Those who did win on Sunday pointed out in their speeches how Hadestown speaks to hardship, resilience, and the experiences of women and other vulnerable people. “It’s about whether you can keep faith when you are made to feel alone,” Chavkin said. “It reminds us that that is how power structures try to maintain control, by making you feel like you’re walking alone in the darkness, even when your partner is right there at your back.” Hadestown’s recognition at the Tony Awards should validate the work of those who keep singing in the face of tragedy and rejection. “If Hadestown stands for anything, it’s that change is possible. In dark times, spring will come again,” said producer Mara Isaacs while accepting the Best Musical award on behalf of the team. Hadestown takes another step down the road toward transforming the world we live in now to the world as it could be: a more equitable, more diverse world, both in theater and beyond it.