By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“And the wall keeps out the enemy/ And we build the wall to keep us free/ That’s why we build the wall….”
In Hadestown, the Anaïs Mitchell musical that opens at the Citadel Thursday en route to Broadway, Hades, the god of the Underworld, explains in song why there’s a wall around his subterranean kingdom of jobs, employment, security.
Mitchell wrote the song a full decade ago. But, says Page, the Broadway star who wraps his velvety bass voice around the role and the song, it resonates in a new and eerie way in the current age of paranoia and protectionism and … The Wall.
“Every time the world changes, your relationship to the material changes. And the audience hears the material differently,” he says. “When we opened in New York, it was before the Republican nominee had been chosen. And the idea of Donald Trump actually getting the nomination seemed pretty absurd.”
“It was a frightening song before…. Now that it has a place in the real world no one could have imagined before, it’s even scarier,” says Page. “But I hope the audience doesn’t only hear it in literal terms now….”
“The circular logic of why we build the wall has a kind of madness to it…. I’ve seen the question asked online: what do they actually make in Hadestown? What they make in Hadestown IS the wall,” as Page says. “ The wall is the economy. And that circularity is the same as the economy.”
He sighs. “The military industrial complex (designed to protect the economy) is the economy…. If we were to cut our military budget in half, whole towns would collapse. Because that’s what they make, nuclear warheads that can never be used. It’s a crazy world.”
Page got to Hadestown — and, as it’s turned out, to Edmonton — the old-fashioned way.
The distinguished Broadway actor, who’s propelled a stellar and lengthy gallery of stage villains onto the stage — including such juicy notables as Green Goblin in Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, Scar in The Lion King, and Dr. Seuss’s Yule-stealing Grinch — got intrigued and called his agent.
“I run an acting studio in New York,” the genial Page explains. “So I go on the trades (the industry sites detailing upcoming projects) every day, Playbill, Backstage, to look for roles I think my students might be right for” (note to self: we all want a teacher as generous-minded as that).
His eye was caught by the notice of workshops for a new musical, and a role that glimmered with possibilities. In Anaïs Mitchell’s musical, Hades, the god of the Underworld, is the factory oligarch whose subterranean empire of employment and security lures Eurydice away from an uncertain life with poet/musician boyfriend Orpheus.
What drew Page to Hadestown in its formative stages as well, he says, was the name Rachel Chavkin. “She’d directed something I’d seen and admired a lot: Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet Of 1812 was by far my favourite musical of last season.”
And then there was the folk/jazzy score. At the outset “I didn’t know Anaïs Mitchell’s music. Which was surprising to me in a way, because I’m a big fan of American folk music.” He laughs. “But then I’m not really up to date; my tastes run in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s.”
“Anyhow I downloaded, and was blown away” by Mitchell’s 2010 concept album of Hadestown. The music didn’t sound to Page like anything he’d ever heard in the musical theatre. “Which is what appealed to me about it,” he says. “It wasn’t like other musicals. And that drew me in….”
The stars were aligning. And Page arrived onstage in Mitchell’s highly unusual musical in 2016 in Chavkin’s hit Off-Broadway production at New York Theatre Workshop
A classical actor who knows his way around stage villainy, Page has applied that rumbling subterranean voice of his — one New York reviewer likened it to “boulders rolling down a mountain” — around a variety of leading stage “villains,” including Macbeth and Iago. Is Hades in that crowd? “I don’t think of him as a villain,” says Page, a thoughtful, gracious sort in conversation. “I think of him as a capitalist. And a husband with a long-distance relationship (his wife Persephone is above ground away from him for six months a year). He’s someone who runs something and provides for people…. And suddenly, everything is falling apart.”
“My business,” he says in Hades mode, “is threatened by this boy (Orpheus) who comes in and wants to take a girl back.” This, as you’ll know from the Greek myth, is strictly against the rules of the Underworld. Returning from the dead is saved for special arrangements.
“You’re not allowed to leave Hadestown once you decide you’re taking that deal,” as Page puts it. “I don’t abduct Eurydice; I don’t force her to come down. She chooses; she buys a ticket. I offer her a chance to live there and have security and never have to worry about whether she’s going to eat…. And suddenly this boy comes and wants to take her back.”
It’s “not a big problem” till the boy begins to incite rebellion amongst the work force. As Hades sings, “give them an inch and they’ll take it all….”
By the kind of coincidence that’s forever smudging the lines between art and life in theatre, the Chavkin production that’s brought Hadestown to Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to be ramped up for Broadway, is, amazingly, a reunion for Page with two of his Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark co-stars, T.V. Carpio as Eurydice and Reeve Carney as Orpheus.“We have a lot of history together,” he says. “It’s very easy for us to work together. I adore Amber Gray (who plays Persephone) as well…. All those relationships feel deeper, And we just have real comfort with one another.”
“You know, one of the things that attracted me to the piece in the first place is that it’s talking about big things, big important things in the world at large…. About the economy, about work, about love and marriage. About death. These are all huge things to get to have a conversation about. And they’re so captivatingly presented in Anaïs Mitchell’s lyrics, these big ideas….
“The lyrics are delicious, the puns, the turns of phrase, the rhymes,” says Page, a playwright himself (his Swansong explores the friendship rivalry between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson). “I just love that about it….”
“I began writing because I wanted to understand more about what a writer goes through, what the process is,” he says. “Which is another reason I like to be involved in new works…. I’m always in awe of the way a writer keep re-writing and re-writing, making it better and better.”
“As a writer I get to the point where I can’t do any more; I can see the flaws, but don’t know how to fix them.”
It’s not like that with Hadestown, says Page, who’s working on a couple of new projects with Bob Martin, the Canadian co-writer (now New York-based) of The Drowsy Chaperone and Slings & Arrows. Mitchell and Chavkin have kept the re-writes coming in Edmonton for this new and expanded production at the Citadel.
“I’ve toured with shows through the States; I’ve played lots of regionals,” says Page. “And there’s a big difference between audiences in, say, the Midwest and the West Coast. I’m curious to find out about Canadian audiences.”