MADISON, Wis. — When Chibueze Ihuoma heard there were auditions for “Hadestown” he was still in college. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he landed a role, but he was sure of one thing: He was going to that audition.
The show follows Eurydice, who works in the underworld to escape a world plagued with climate change-induced turmoil and poverty. Her lover, Orpheus, rescues her and the couple shows others how to escape their “hellish” environment.
Then, the pandemic hit, and the national tour of “Hadestown” was put on hold.
Ihuoma was still in the audition process when the world came to a screeching halt. His theater classes got moved online, but he eventually graduated from New York University’s Tisch in 2021 — something that probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic, he said.
As school was ending, the tour was picking back up. The creative team reached out to a lot of the “Hadestown” hopefuls they had seen audition the first time around, Ihuoma included.
Ihuoma had been dreaming of a principal role; the casting team thought “he was a little green for leading a national tour,” but they still wanted him to be a part of the show.
(Courtesy of T Charles Erickson)
Ihuoma was cast in the ensemble, also serving as the understudy for Orpheus. Ihuoma was happy to be working on his dream tour the September after earning a degree.
He had the chance to take center stage a few times as Orpheus, and gave it his all every time. He said he saw every night in the leading role as a chance to re-audition for the part. He was hopeful, he said, that maybe one day he would move through the “Hadestown” ranks.
He didn’t have to wait too long.
That May, he was in an Uber in California when his agent called.
“It caught me so off guard,” Ihuoma said. “Usually they call me if there’s either some news of like something happening. I was like, ‘I haven’t auditioned for anything recently so I don’t know what this could be about.’”
Unbeknownst to the cast yet, the actor playing Orpheus was leaving the show. Ihuoma was being offered the part.
“It was a full whiplash,” he recalled. “It turned into a bit of a party that I had with my Uber driver — it was very lovely.”
He took the reins as Orpheus in June.
One Sunday, he was dancing in the ensemble, and by the next Tuesday, he made his Orpheus debut.
He admitted it was an adjustment, and he had to key into a new level of stamina. He took note from the original leads, finding a balance of giving all the authenticity and energy he could to the role, all while being able to perform it eight times a week. After all, it’s the only way to bring the show, and its message, to audiences across the country.
(Courtesy of T Charles Erickson)
“I hope that people take away… the general power of love — the power of how it can affect the people in your immediate space,” he said. “But also, the show’s biggest message is that it’s a song about love that fixes the world. Right at the beginning of the show, Hermes is saying that it’s Hades and Persephone’s love that makes the world go ‘round, in a very literal sense for our show because it controls the seasons.”
And, as Ihuoma said, if you love something, you have to trust it.
“Trusting that they’ll be there for you, trusting that they’ll come back to you,” he explained. “If you can trust it to let it go, when that person comes back, that is the biggest demonstration of love they can ever give.”
“Hadestown” runs at the Overture Center for the Arts from Jan. 24 to 29. For ticket information, click here.