'Music is a metaphor for love': Meet Orpheus from 'Hadestown' before show's Austin run
All aboard the road to hell, y'all. Broadway's "Hadestown" is coming to Austin this month.
The Tony Award-winning show brings to life two mythic stories — those of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. As in the myth, the show's Orpheus travels to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. You can expect all kinds of horns, as the show comes with New Orleans-inspired jazz music, as well as modern American folk music.
We caught up with Nicholas Barasch, who plays Orpheus in the show's touring production, ahead of the show's Austin run at Bass Concert Hall from Jan. 11-16.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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American-Statesman: Let's start at the beginning. I know you auditioned for this role pre-pandemic, right? What have the past couple of years been like for you?
Nicholas Barasch: I auditioned for the role, and March 13, 2020, was the final callback. It was wild. It was pre-masks, and we didn't know what was going on, and at that point, we just thought hand sanitizer would do the trick. I booked the role about a month into the pandemic.
We didn't know when (the tour) was going to happen or if it would go on as planned. I sat on the news for over a year, and I'm super grateful that we ended up getting to do it. We started rehearsing in August 2021.
The past couple of the years, I'm grateful in a way. Of course, the horrors of the last two years, none of us would have ever dreamed of or hoped for or wished for. But I was able to kind of calm down and slow down in my life as a performer and focus on other things in my life, like family. I started writing. I started meditating more. I grew a lot. I don't think what I'm bringing to the role now I would have been able to bring when I was 21. Now I'm 23.
Tell me more about what you wouldn't have been able to bring as a 21-year-old compared to a 23-year-old who has been through a pandemic now.
I just think there's an emotional depth and range that I have now that I didn't before. I was focusing on friendships and relationships. I think that pain and insight can only inform your work as an actor. That's also just part of growing up. I was much younger then. To most people, 21 and 23 might not sound like a huge difference, but for me, especially living through the pandemic, it has been.
To be able to sit with the role, to know that it was possibly happening, I could to do more research and practice more guitar.
What can Austinites expect from "Hadestown?"
For those who have never seen it, obviously it's based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It's a relatively easy myth to follow. It's this big kind of sweeping Broadway show, at times. We have the big sets and lights and production numbers, but it's also very intimate. There's an acoustic guitar moment, where it's just me and a guitar onstage singing.
I think what people take away is just the range of what a musical can do. There's no other musical like this out there. It's epic romance. It's beautiful, gorgeous songs. It's poetry.
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Did you know how to play guitar before this role?
I'm going to say I was a beginner, and now I'm more intermediate. I definitely did a lot of practicing over the summer. I had a great teacher. It's still an out-of-body experience. Sometimes I look down and I'm like, "Am I really playing electric guitar onstage in front of thousands of people?" You can't think about it too much.
What do you think "Hadestown" has to say about our current moment?
I was just thinking about this last night. For the epic tale that it is and the love story that it is, it's also a celebration of art and music.
In our show, music is a metaphor for love.
We feel it when we're onstage. In our opening number, "Road to Hell," we have a moment where we acknowledge the audience. We talk to the audience and get them revved up, and they rev us up. I think it's way more meaningful now, because it is a privilege to be able to see theater, to be able to perform theatrical productions, and we take a moment to acknowledge that. I'm grateful for that moment.
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What’s it like being in this show? What’s it like to be in a show at all? I wish I could live inside a musical and need to know everything.
It's really a pleasure for me, because I was a fan of "Hadestown" before I was ever in it.
It is a job. My job is to tell the story and embody Orpheus. Sometimes I have to remind myself to enjoy and relax more into the moment whether it's singing "Wait for Me," which is one of my favorite songs, or looking at my cast members on stage and realize we're doing this.
We try to have rituals before the show to hype ourselves up and remember that it's such a special thing, that we get to do this for a living.
What are the things y'all do to hype each other up?
I have a few rituals with my stage left crew, for example. I have a certain hand gesture ritual with our bassist. I give a hug to our guitarist. I do something strange and weird with one of our cast members onstage that I can't reveal; it's top secret. You know, things like that.
Finally, I have to know since you made your Broadway debut in the 2009 "West Side Story" revival: Have you seen the new movie? What’d you think?
I have. It's fantastic. I mean, it's a Steven Spielberg movie. The first shot happened — and I think it's this aerial shot of the city — and Kyle Coffman, one of my cast members from the 2009 revival, he's the first person you see in the film. He plays a Jet in it. I gasped. I (messaged) him on Instagram and was like, "Oh my god, Kyle!" There are four or five cast members from our show who are in the film, so it was a trippy experience. I think they did a great job with it.
If you go
"Hadestown" runs at Bass Concert Hall (2350 Robert Dedman Drive) from Jan. 11-16. Find tickets online at texasperformingarts.org.
Rapidly changing pandemic conditions may affect live entertainment in Austin. Check the venue's website for the latest safety updates.