Canadian performer Jewelle Blackman stars in Broadway musical ‘Hadestown’

Actor and musician Jewelle Blackman will star as Persephone in the Broadway musical ‘Hadestown’ after being involved with the show since its out-of-town tryout at Edmonton’s Citadel Theater in 2017.

“Thrilled, elated, ecstatic are just a few of the words I would use to describe my feelings,” Blackman told The Star by phone from New York of his first Broadway starring role.

“Hadestown”, created by Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin, weaves together the classic myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone and draws its musical roots from jazz and blues, folk and pop of the New Orleans. It opened on Broadway in April 2019 and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Blackman has been Persephone’s stunt double since the show returned from COVID-19 hiatus last September; she reprized the role on April 5.

The character is the wife of Hades, king of the underworld, and is also the goddess of spring. She and her husband made a deal in which she spends six months a year underground and six months on Earth.

“There are so many layers to her,” Blackman said of the character. “She goes through so much to stay sane while she’s underground. She drinks, she’s an alcoholic… but when she comes to life and she’s above the ground, you see the beauty, you see the joy. I play the highest highs and the lowest lows in a character. It’s incredible.”

Originally from Toronto, Blackman has had a busy career as a performer for Canadian theaters including the Stratford Festival, Mirvish Productions and the Young People’s Theatre, as well as film and television.

She didn’t necessarily think work would take her away from Toronto when she first got wind of “Hadestown.”

In the summer of 2017, “I was on my phone scrolling,” she said, “and I came to the Citadel website, and I was like, ‘oh, this is interesting – what is this show? “The audition called for performers to sing and accompany themselves on a musical instrument, a challenge for which Blackman was well prepared: She trained from the age of eight on the classical violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music and studied music and film at Queen’s University.

For the show’s broadcast in Edmonton, she was chosen as one of three destinies, which function as a kind of Greek choir, each playing a different musical instrument.

“It was a very short run, but I knew this show was going to go a long way,” she said. “The storytelling was so poignant. The way it was told visually, musically, sonically, it was just unlike anything else I had seen.

She was invited to join the Broadway production as one of the Fates, but asked if she could switch to the accordion “to match the type of voice with the instrument” – her singing voice is naturally low . “I thought they were joking at first,” she said, “but music director Liam (Robinson) said to me, ‘You’re a great musician. I know you can learn.’

During the 18-month pandemic hiatus, Blackman returned to Toronto to spend time with her 11-year-old son and to work on her own musical theater projects with the Musical Stage Company and Bad Hats Theatre.

While excited about these developing shows, her focus now is to see where “Hadestown” takes her.

“I think life is going to be a little different now than I thought,” Blackman said.

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