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How ‘Hadestown’ went from surprise Off-Broadway hit to Broadway mainstay

Producer Mara Isaacs discusses the choices she and her team made to get “Hadestown” to its fifth anniversary on Broadway.

The company of “Hadestown” on Broadway, March 2024 (Credit: Evan Zimmerman)

When “Hadestown” premiered Off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), there wasn’t a plan to take it to Broadway. “At that point, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to get a warehouse space and make it an immersive thing,” “Hadestown” lead producer Mara Isaacs told Broadway News. “Then what we learned from watching the way audiences responded to the show was that we actually had something that was commercial.”

Isaacs has been with “Hadestown” since its beginning. From her first listen of writer Anaïs Mitchell’s concept album, Isaacs knew “it was so innately theatrical. You could see it, you could feel it. The characters were vivid.” While Isaacs felt it was special at the outset, what she didn’t quite realize is how many people would agree with her. “Hadestown” became the one of the highest-grossing shows in NYTW’s history, and when Isaacs met fans who had seen the show 11 times Off-Broadway, Broadway ambitions formulated. “It wasn’t just that it sold well, it was that you could see it was developing a kind of rabid fan base,” Isaacs said. “And the level of enthusiasm [and] conversation was just — there were people who were propelling it into a different level of visibility.”

But the show, which had been staged on a set inspired by a Greek amphitheater, needed to be reworked for a proscenium space. Isaacs and her fellow lead producers (Dale Franzen, Hunter Arnold and Tom Kirdahy) mounted the show at Canada’s Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and then at London’s National Theatre. These theaters were intentionally far from Broadway, allowing for development without too many eyeballs. But the team didn’t want the fanbase to lose energy. 

“The biggest thing we did was we kept the music at the forefront throughout at that period of time,” Isaacs said. “When we were at New York Theatre Workshop, we recorded a live album. That gave us the opportunity to keep the show in front of people even when we were working on it out of sight.”

“Hadestown” opened at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre on April 17, 2019. The productions leading up to the Main Stem had sold well and the album was getting more play than producers expected for an Off-Broadway live record, but now the musical had to compete with recognizable titles of the 2018-2019 season such as “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” “Tootsie,” “Beetlejuice,” “Oklahoma!” and shows rooted in familiar IP like “The Cher Show” and “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” In the messaging for “Hadestown,” Isaacs and co. doubled down on what audiences had responded to in the first place.

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