Ani DiFranco Is Heading Way Down to Hadestown on Broadway

Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Back in 2010, way before the Tony Awards, lightbulb walls, and massive chorus-dudes, Hadestown sprung to life as a concept album: a “folk opera” conceived by Anaïs Mitchell, released through Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label. Mitchell sang the part of Eurydice opposite Justin Vernon’s Orpheus, and she tapped DiFranco for Persephone, Hades’s vernal goddess wife. The album’s journey to Broadway in the years that followed is the stuff of musical-theater myth (pun intended), but that first recording’s indie-folk DNA still courses through the stage version.

Now, Vulture has learned that the two singer-songwriters are preparing to collaborate on Hadestown again, as DiFranco will make her Broadway debut as Persephone on February 9, 2024. In some ways, this is a brand-new direction for the “32 Flavors” singer, but in a fittingly mythical hero’s journey way, it’s also a return to a character that she helped create. Vulture sat down with DiFranco and Mitchell while they essentially interviewed each other just down the street from the Walter Kerr Theatre to discuss creative mentorship and relating to Persephone.

What has it been like for you to return to this project and this role now that it has taken on such a larger life?

Ani DiFranco: It’s really cool. All those years while you were gathering a badass crew around you and evolving it beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, I was touring and doing my scrappy little folk-singer thing and marveling at what you were up to. I haven’t played a big role in the making of Hadestown, but I feel like a fairy godmother: I got you your little shoes and your little dress and I sent you off to the ball. As the little fairy godmother, I’m just so excited to be invited back.

Photo: Mitchell Murphy

Anaïs Mitchell: Ani, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I would maybe not have picked up the guitar was it not for your songs. The first songs I learned on the guitar in high school were Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and “Both Hands.” You were such a mythical figure for me. Creatively, politically, business-wise, you showed me the way as an aspiring songwriter, because you were at the forefront of this movement in indie music, where you didn’t wait to get discovered or to get someone’s permission to make an album. You just scrape together the money, you make a record, you tour it, you sell it out of your car until you make enough money to make another one. That’s what I did, and then a couple of records in, I met you at a bar in Buffalo.

AD: I showed up at Nietzsche’s and watched you play, and immediately wanted to get behind you.

AM: You signed me to your label right away, and the second full-length album I made with Righteous Babe was Hadestown. I was a virtually unknown songwriter, and I was like, “I’m gonna do a double record, and it’s a concept album about Greek mythology.” It was cool of you and your label to be like, “Great, we will give you money to make that.” Ani was the first person I asked to sing on the record, as Persephone. You had not even heard the music, but right away you said yes, and your leap of faith blew open the door to a cascade of yeses. Had you not said yes to the album early on, there’s no way to know what path this piece would have taken. Would we be here in midtown, talking about you taking over the role for Broadway? It’s an almost unimaginable full-circle situation.

AD: I believe that you would have made it happen.

Why is now the time to return to Persephone?

AM: It’s not only your role in the genesis of the show, but just who you you are in the culture. I’ve always equated you with the Persephone character. She’s evolved since the album: She’s empathetic for Orpheus, and she’s fun, she likes to party, and she is a revolutionary. That’s who you’ve always been to me: bold and brave and fun.

AD: And a bit of a provider. Not that I have much, but one of my favorite things is giving beautiful souls and performers and musical beings and artists that fall outside conventional realms a little leg up, in sort of an ethereal mentor role. In that sense, I relate to Persephone.

AM: Your wardrobe is all Persephone.

AD: Kind of Earth mama, kind of debauched.

What’s it like to take on this type of Broadway musical-theater performance for the first time?

AD: When I got the call, I was like, dude, at my age, I’m just so blessed to have an opportunity to get pushed out of my comfort zone and try something new.

AM: You are a lightning rod; you have so much power onstage. And you’re a good dancer. I know, because we’ve had some awesome dance parties on tour buses late at night.

AD: The characters in the piece are archetypal, and I relate to various ones in my own life and journey. I feel like I was once a Eurydice, and we are once and always an Orpheus, but I am so deeply Persephone at this moment.

AM: It’s very hard to age, as a woman in the arts and in life in general. For a woman a few years older than me to extend a hand and a leg up to a younger woman is almost too rare. And Persephone does that for Eurydice. That’s where I’m at now: I feel like Persephone, but I’m not quite comfortable with it. I’ve seen older folks, and now me, identify with what it’s like to be in a partnership with someone for so many years, and Persephone and Hades struggling to find each other again, and then having this renaissance of their love.

AD: I don’t want to rush you into that one. There’s no other way out of this life.

Ani DiFranco Is Heading Way Down to Hadestown on Broadway