Hadestown, one of my favorite musicals, has just recently started a run in London prior to a Broadway production sometime within the next year. Already there are rumors and whispers of changes...and, already, there are people upset about those changes.
Hadestown has been in development for quite a while. It has already gone through two runs, first at the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) and then at Edmonton Citadel in Canada. But, prior to that, it was a concept album that came out in 2010, which followed Anaïs Mitchell's folk opera touring around New England. In short, Hadestown has been changing for years. And it will keep changing up until the moment it is frozen on Broadway. "We’re going to work on this thing until the moment it opens," says Mitchell. “There’s like a pathological hunger for improvement,” adds director Rachel Chavkin, a key force in creating Hadestown as the musical we know today.
Songs have been cut, lyrics have shifted, characters have new lines and removed moments. It is what we should expect from a show in development. Yet many fans believe that the show peaked in its NYTW run, and any changes made from that point out are destructive to the perfection achieved then.
That is where I take issue. Certainly I don't agree with every single choice the creative team has made along the way. It's not my show. But I have faith in the team, especially Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell, to make this show the best version of itself that it can possibly be when it comes to Broadway and settles down.
Rarely does a show arrive on Broadway cold. Even if it's just a reading or a short workshop, a show has usually had some sort of outside development time. Most shows do out-of-town tryouts, or have an off-Broadway run. It is especially fascinating to look at shows that have multiple cast recordings, as it provides a clear record of how the show has developed since its arrival to Broadway.
I think of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, which has a cast recording from its off-Broadway run as well as its Broadway run. Some changes are clear, such as the removal of "Natasha Lost" and the addition of "Dust and Ashes." The former was center of much discussion among Comet fans who adored the song. And, indeed, I love the song immensely. But the creative team has clarified that the song was cut not due to any inherent fault, but because the information in the song was already present elsewhere in the show and the song caused a dip in momentum. Therefore, it was cut. "Dust and Ashes" was added to add heft to Pierre's character arc, clarifying his motivations and providing an emotional response to the events of "The Duel." Subtler, smaller changes are abound in the Broadway version, from changes in lyrics, to extending a dance break, to changing the entire first half of "Sunday Morning."
All of the changes made between Comet's off-Broadway run to its Broadway run had specific, clear reasons behind them. All of them were meant to strengthen the story and the show as a whole. And I would argue that, even if I miss one moment or another, or preferred the original lyric, these changes helped the show to become a better version of itself.
Hamilton provides another interesting case. The Broadway cast album, award-winning and iconic, is the foundation of most people's understanding of the show. But Lin-Manuel Miranda and the team have been vocal and honest about songs that were cut during the process, often releasing them in "Hamildrops" and other forms. Many people have said things along the lines of "Why did you cut this? It's amazing!" and “Don't you regret cutting this?" But Miranda has been vocal about why cutting these songs was necessary. On "Theodosia Reprise" he said, "Our show was too long! We cut this and The Adams Administration because they addressed offstage characters!" If you continue to look through his Twitter, you'll see a common theme: the song itself is never the problem. It's the overall flow and arc of the show that leads to decisions to cut these admittedly amazing songs.
I am also in the midst of a new play development class after assistant dramaturging on a world premiere new play, so the idea of changes and cuts has been on my mind all semester. I have gone through three drafts of the same play, highlighting everything new and crossing out everything cut. It is tedious, time-consuming work - a play that took me about an hour to read took six hours to annotate. But what I gained from it was seeing every individual change and being able to evaluate what the effect of each change was. One play changed all contraction words like "should've" to the more colloquial "shoulda" - a seemingly small change. But it heightened the lower class standing of the characters, and particularly one character's distress when her improper grammar is called out during her dream job interview.
Every change has reasoning behind it. Changes won't always be good, nor will they always stick if they're not what the show needs. Cuts usually have little to do with the quality of a moment, song, or scene - they are for the greater good of the show.
All of this to say: I'm excited to see where Hadestown goes next (cuts and changes alike) under the helm of Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin. I'm excited to follow new shows from early points and to see how they blossom going forward. I hope that everyone can learn to take a step back from their initial reactions toward a change and see what effect it has on the show as a whole - there's so much to gain from seeing how a show develops into its best self.
(Photo: The cast of Hadestown in rehearsal for the National Theatre production. Photo by Helen Maybanks.)