Hadestown's André De Shields Talks Dragging Broadway 'Kicking and Screaming' Toward Diversity

PartingShot_andredeshields
Illustration by Britt Spencer

There is no one like you. There has never been anyone like you. There shall never be anyone like you. Therefore, know thyself; be thyself," says Hadestown star André De Shields, who won a Tony in June after nearly 50 years acting on Broadway.

His acceptance speech went viral after offering three cardinal rules for sustainability and longevity. The Broadway musical Hadestown reimagines the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one of the first star-crossed lovers. The adaptation livens up the classic Greek myth, drenched with New Orleans–style jazz, a colorful set and unforgettable performances.

It nabbed eight wins out of 14 nominations, with one of them going to de Shields. It was de Shields' third Tony nomination after being recognized for Play On! in 1997 and then for The Full Monty in 2001. De Shields says, "the universe loves trinities," so he was prepared for his name to be called at the Tonys. "I try to be succinct. I believe if you know something, share something," he says.

We spoke to De Shields about Hadestown, shaping his character and Broadway's changing diversity.

What attracted you to Hermes?

The role spoke to me seven years ago when [singer-songwriter] Anaïs Mitchell did the first theatrical interpretation of the show, and I played Hermes. In retrospect, I now know that I created Hermes. Other folks have played the role, but I invested my DNA and then I hid a little boomerang so Hermes would know, if Hadestown did graduate to a commercial production, he should come back to me.

Tell me about your Tony speech.

I wanted to be decidedly focused about what I wanted to say. So after 50 years in this industry, I thought, this is what I know, let me lay it on you.

Why do audiences love Hadestown so much?

The theater is now the last place of worship where people—strangers—can come together and have questions answered, have burdens lifted, have yokes broken. Hadestown processes all those elements.

How has Broadway changed since the beginning of your career?

In some cases, we had to drag Broadway kicking and screaming to the elements of diversity and inclusion, but finally Broadway pretty much reflects what's happening on its streets. This industry is all about being authentic. Life is all about being authentic. So as I open a door, I don't close it. I try to leave it open because
I know that people are trying to get through.

Hadestown's André De Shields Talks Dragging Broadway 'Kicking and Screaming' Toward Diversity