Meet the Tony Winners: André De Shields of ‘Hadestown’

The hit musical Hadestown offers a completely unique retelling of the myth of the young lovers Orpheus and Eurydice. Meanwhile, in this version we are also invested in the story of Persephone and King Hades, the ancient, more hardened, couple. The show contains a cool hybrid of musical genres, from rock to toe-tapping New Orleans dixie jazz. And the lyrics are pure poetry. Hadestown won eight Tony awards, including a Best Musical and a Best Featured Actor Tony for De Shields. A multiple Tony Award nominee, he has wowed on Broadway for decades, and starred in The WizAin’t Misbehavin’Play On! and The Full Monty.

Is it hard to put into words how has the experience of doing Hadestown has changed you?
André De Shields: It’s not hard to put into words, because my daily devotionals are expressed in Hadestown. That’s one of the reasons why people seem to identify André De Shields with Hermes. It is who I am that Hermes requires to come to life on the stage.

This is something you probably don’t know. In November, 2012, Anaïs Mitchell did her first workshop of Hadestown. And I was Hermes then. Since then, other people have played Hermes. But in 2012, they infected Hermes with my DNA, and I put a boomerang in him. And I said, “I’ll be patient. When you’re ready to come back to me, I’ll be here.” It took seven years.

What was it about the show that made you want to come back to it?
ADS: It was one of those situations. I made a pact with myself that the projects I choose will benefit from my participation. Otherwise, it’s a waste of energy, time and salary, really. When I had this opportunity to do the workshop in 2012, I knew instantly that Hermes needed me to fulfill his journey as the storyteller of this very special message that was born thousands of years ago. But it is only able to be unpacked in the 21st century.

Hermes seems to be the soul of the show. What do you adore about him?
ADS: I love Hermes, because he is the Messenger to the Gods. I’m parsing words. I’m not saying messenger OF the Gods. I’m saying messenger TO the Gods. So, if it were a Shakespeare play, as opposed to a Greek myth, he would be the clown, the conscience of the king. Hermes is many things in the play. He’s a trickster. He serves King Hades. He mentors Orpheus, who is the antagonist to King Hades. And then, he’s a shape shifter. He is a guide, he’s a chaperone. He is a storyteller. He is the fool. And he’s the connection between what happens in the underworld and the world that is above ground.

How did you feel when your name was announced that you won a Tony?
ADS: I felt successful. I felt a kind of completion. I wasn’t going to leave Broadway until they gave me what I thought I should have. But there are so many other adventures that I want to have. There are so many other mountains that I want to climb. I gaze at the stars because the stars gaze at me. Every decision I make has to do with me being a Capricorn, because Capricorns are climbers. So, I’m looking for my next peak.

The show is so full of passion and heartbreak. And how do you come down from that?
ADS: I don’t leave the theater immediately. You can imagine, especially during the award season, every waking hour is consumed by the show and these ancillary commitments. So I stay at the theater, especially on double show days. I take my bills and my reading. And when the show is over, I sit and pay my bills. Or I’ll chill out. I’m reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming. So I’ll read a chapter two of that until I have decompressed. Or, I’ll take time and go out and sign autographs for 200 people. And that’s part of the decompression. And then I’ll walk slowly, because that is my mastery. My mastery is being able to move monstrously slowly.

In your Tony speech, you said that the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next. What is next for you?
ADS: Now that I have received my first Tony award, which is the golden ring, the greater work that I want to achieve is a heavenly one. Part of what I said has to do with that promise to my colleagues in Baltimore. Specifically my family, my mother and my father – who had dreams of being a performer. My mother wanted to dance. My father wanted to sing. So when you see me dancing, I’m using my mother’s feet. When you hear me sing, I’m using my father’s voice. This, after 70 installment payments, is that karmic debt paid in full. Now I can go about my next 73 years doing what satisfies André.

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