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Breaking Barriers and Inspiring Audiences: Orpheus, J. Antonio Rodriguez Takes us Behind the Scenes of Hadestown

Hadestown, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical has arrived at Bass Hall for a limited engagement that promises an unforgettable experience. With captivating melodies by Anaïs Mitchell and visionary direction by Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown weaves together intertwining love stories, taking audiences on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Led by the remarkable J. Antonio Rodriguez as Orpheus, the talented cast delivers powerful performances, supported by stunning set design, mesmerizing lighting, and a genre-defying soundtrack that blends folk and jazz. This production is a triumph of storytelling, offering a message of hope, faith, and resilience.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

We had a chance to speak with J. Antonio Rodriguez, who is the first Latino to play the role of Orpheus in Hadestown, and got a closer look at the show, J. Antonio’s character, and his experience as a Latino actor on stages across the US. Here’s what he had to say:

How does it feel to be the first Latino to play the role of Orpheus in Hadestown, and what does this milestone mean to you? Within the first month of taking over as Orpheus, I received countless messages on social media from other Latino teens, adults, DREAMers, and artists, all telling me how wonderful it was for them to see someone not only of my Mexican/latino background, but also of my more indigenous complexion leading Hadestown. Growing up, I had always wondered where the people that looked like me were, leading shows, being in the principal cast, especially in shows that had nothing to do with Latino culture. To now be a role model for all kinds of Latino people has been a cathartic experience. I only hope to make my people proud.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Hadestown explores themes of doubt, faith, love, and resilience. As a Latino actor, what elements of your cultural background and personal experiences do you bring to the role of Orpheus in Hadestown, and how do they shape your interpretation of the character? There are two cultural elements that I try to bring into my interpretation of Orpheus. The first is the importance of family. Orpheus, as a character, is a lover. Lover of the world, lover of music, lover of people. Growing up, I was always reminded that family is the strongest bond I can have. Mexican culture, to me, has always been family-oriented. If I, as Orpheus, can see the entire world as my family, then that shines through. His immense love for his friends, and especially Eurydice, is on full display. The second element that I value in this character that stems from my culture is the culture of hard-work. I have never known harder workers than Latinos, in whatever line of work they’re in. My dad started a landscaping business and worked most hours of the day to ensure that, growing up, my sisters and I never needed a thing. His love for us fueled his hard work, and that instilled in us the same values. As Orpheus, he works so hard for the people he loves. He goes to hell. He starts a revolution. He saves the world.

What do you enjoy most about performing the music in the show that blends modern American folk music with New Orleans-inspired jazz? I love that I get to sing in a more contemporary style. I don’t have to sing in the traditional Musical Theatre way, which don’t get me wrong, I love, but in this show, I get to sing like me.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The touring production of Hadestown allows you to bring the show to different audiences across North America. How does it feel to be a part of a production that reaches people from diverse backgrounds and regions? Touring with this show fills my soul. We are so fortunate to be able to bring this show to communities that can’t just take a taxi to the Walter Kerr and watch Hadestown on Broadway. We get to show audiences the beautiful diversity of our cast, and share the messages to the entire country.

In your bio, you mention acknowledging the DREAMers. Can you speak to the significance of representing the Latino community and giving a nod to the DREAMers as part of your journey in Hadestown, and how it feels to be a source of inspiration for aspiring Latino actors? Being a DREAMer is such an important part of my identity. As a DREAMer myself, I know exactly what it means to be just that. A dreamer. Dreaming of a better world, dreaming of a time where we finally feel that we belong. It’s important to me that we keep excelling, to give those in power less and less of a reason to not be on our side. It’s important we show that Latinos can do anything, even when the odds are stacked against us. To me, there’s no better example of Latino excellence than DREAMers, and they deserve every ounce of recognition.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Hadestown has received numerous accolades and awards. For those who are eagerly anticipating the Bass Hall debut of Hadestown, can you give us a glimpse into what audiences can expect from this genre-defying musical? Audiences should come in with their hearts and minds open, and in turn, expect to simply feel. It’s an interactive show, and the opening number invites the audience to really participate in the story. As long as hearts are open, the emotions will come. It’s not a traditional broadway show with the big tap numbers, and classic singing and music. It’s truly a special experience.

With Hadestown being a love story for today and always, what message or feeling do you hope audiences take away from the show, especially during this time of reopening and reconnecting with live theater? I hope that audiences, for one, are inspired to keep supporting and attending live theater. There’s nothing like it. Finally, I hope they leave knowing that if everyone simply loved like Orpheus, the world would be a better place.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Hadestown is now playing at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth through July 2, 2023. For tickets and more details, visit BassHall.com or call 817-212-4280.

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