Why Anaïs Mitchell Made an 'Epic' Change to Hadestown Five Years On | Playbill

Special Features Why Anaïs Mitchell Made an 'Epic' Change to Hadestown Five Years On

As the show approaches its fifth anniversary on Broadway, its Tony-winning composer is still working on a song.

Anaïs Mitchell

They may be way down under the ground, but as Hadestown celebrates its fifth anniversary on Broadway April 17, the production is brimming with new life. In addition to the show's recent high-profile cast changes (including father-daughter duo Jon Jon and Isa Briones taking on Hermes and Eurydice), another significant shift is shaking the foundation of Hades' walls: a small-yet-significant rewrite.

Click here to purchase the Hadestown fifth anniversary Playbill

While a Broadway show is typically considered complete about 10 days before its official opening date (referred to as the point where a show is "frozen" from further changes), many artists lament not being able to continue tweaking their own work.

For Anaïs Mitchell—the erudite composer, lyricist, and book-writer for Hadestown—13 years of pre-Broadway development wasn't quite enough time to shine every single diamond in the mine. That is why recently, when Hadestown opened in London, the crucial second act song, "Epic III," featured new lyrics.

"This is a change I was trying to make right up till we locked the show on Broadway!" Mitchell shared with Playbill. "Epic III," which Orpheus works on for the majority of the show's first act, is his attempt to convince the god Hades to release Eurydice. In the show, it requires a level of refined songwriting that verges on divinity, enough to melt the heart of a god.

Patrick Page and Reeve Carney

"'Epic III' evolved so much over the years. It finally landed in this spot where it felt like, the beating heart of the song was Orpheus returning the forgotten love song of the gods to them—that moment where the song blooms into this beautiful choral moment with the whole company," Mitchell explains. "I always felt that there was too much text that followed that climactic moment. I felt myself 'waiting through' it, so I became obsessed with the idea of shortening that acoustic section."

When Hadestown opened on Broadway, the bridge of the song read: 

And what has become of the heart of that man
Now that the man is king?
What has become of the heart of that man
Now that he has everything?

The more he has, the more he holds
The greater the weight of the world on his shoulders
See how he labors beneath that load
Afraid to look up, and afraid to let go
So he keeps his head low, he keeps his back bending
He's grown so afraid that he'll lose what he owns
But what he doesn't know is that what he's defending
Is already gone

But Mitchell wasn't yet satisfied. "I always wanted it more compassionate and direct. In early versions of the show, the song was more of a soapbox moment, an indictment," Mitchell details, referring to Hadestown's development process since 2006. "But I found myself always more deeply moved by the idea that Orpheus is putting himself in the shoes of the king—that he had to have both loved and lost in order to speak truth to the king in that moment." 

Jordan Fisher in Hadestown Matthew Murphy

While Mitchell communicated to fans her feelings on "Epic III" in her book, Working On A Song (which detailed the process of writing Hadestown), the lyric was not touched after the show's initial freeze period on Broadway. When Hadestown came to the West End in February 2024, Mitchell finally had the opportunity to make the long-considered change. 

"I didn’t touch any lyrics for the North American tour, though I was tempted to! But when I learned we were headed to the West End, I thought that might be a lovely place and time to try something new," Mitchell confesses. Those changes made for the West End was soon reflected on Broadway, though Mitchell hadn't planned on it. 

"Honestly, I didn’t even think it was 'allowed' for me to change the lyrics on Broadway," she remarks. "It was actually Jordan Fisher, our current Orpheus, who somehow heard the London 'Epic III' on TikTok. I don’t even remember my TikTok password so I had no idea there were bootlegs! He texted me very moved by it and wanting to try it. And I was like, 'Yeah, I wanna hear you do that too!' I’m grateful everyone said yes and grateful to Jordan for advocating for it."

Now, that "Epic III" bridge reads: 

I know how it is because he is like me
I know how it is to be left all alone
There’s a hole in his arms where the world used to be
When Persephone’s gone
His work never done, his war never won
Will go on forever whatever the cost
‘Cause the thing that he’s building his walls around
Is already lost

Now the show is actually frozen. Well, almost. While Mitchell doesn't anticipate wanting to make any other immediate adjustments, she doesn't wholly rule out any tweaks in the next five years.

"Is anything ever finished?" Mitchell says rhetorically, then laughs. "Well, I do think there’s value in moving on. But this piece in particular, it’s an ancient myth that’s been retold a million times. It feels almost like a folk song, that evolves and gathers verses and loses verses over the centuries. So, it didn’t feel like I was gonna break anything by getting under the hood again a little bit." 

And if anyone ever misses the old "Epic III," have no fear, that's what the cast album is for.

Photos: Jon Jon Briones and Isa Briones in Hadestown

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