Greek mythology purists may not immediately recognize Amber Gray’s take on Persephone.
She plays the wife of Hades, God of the Underworld, in the Tony-nominated musical “Hadestown,” bringing husky vocals, four costumes changes and attitude and empathy to the character. From her percussive movements to her charming demeanor as Persephone, Gray has gone through various iterations of the character from its London run to Broadway, ranging from goddess-like to “mob boss’ wife.”
“Hadestown” received the most Tony nominations of any Broadway show this season with 14 nods. The musical tells a love story inspired by two mythical couples: Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice.
Gray talked to Variety about working with the cast, the various iterations of the show’s costume design and motherhood.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I basically have to save my energy for the two and a half hours [of the production] because I have two small children, which is tiring. I’m pacing myself and surviving the day. I don’t really use my energy in other ways. I used to religiously bike to the shows even after having the kids, but I have not been able to do that. I rest a ton and I don’t ever physically or vocally warm up because by the time I get to the show, I’ve talked enough to my kids and played all morning. It’s more about conserving energy before putting it out.
Did you research the legend of Persephone and Hades in preparation for the role?
No, I grew up with those myths for years, and if you’re a purist about the myths, you’ll be mad about “Hadestown’s” take on Hades and Persephone. You know, Hades abducted Persephone, and there’s the version of the Rape of Proserpina, her other name. And that’s not helpful for telling the story of “Hadestown” [laughs]. It is inspired by the myth, but it does not fully follow the myth.
Are there any similarities between you and Persephone?
A lot of the moves and sounds that I’m making are weird things that have come up in my imagination over the years. It is related to me, but on the actual page, I don’t know. I do really admire her relationship with Hades, that they’re in sort of an ancient love affair, like an old married couple that bickers and really loves each other at the end of the day. I dig that.
How would you say your voice and Patrick Page’s [who plays Hades] complement each other?
Patrick was actually my third Hades; there were two workshops before him. One was a tenor, the second shopped Hades as a baritone. I went through many, many different versions to figure out where to vocally sing it with a bass like Patrick Page. So, I sang a lot of the songs in different keys to figure out what sounded good with him.
Were you inspired by anything when you developed the character?
With some of the movement, when I went into audition for it, I wore combat boots and a dress because I really wanted to stomp and make percussive sounds. That just felt inherently right to me after listening to the album. The music’s so gorgeous and I wanted that to be part of my audition. The first workshop I ever did was New Orleans-y, the underlying inspiration, and I was like, “I guess we need a fan.” That was clear to me from the beginning. There were certain things that other people brought into the room as inspiration that I ran with and find really helpful.
Any other inspirations?
She’s in four costumes, Persephone, and one of the original ones felt like a mob boss’ wife and had that gangster feel. We went through a phase where she was in a flowing Grecian gown, which was not helpful at all because she’s a badass, you know? I was playing her really hard even though she was wearing a weird flow-y dress. And then there were Dolly Parton and Beyonce on the image board that the costume designer created. It was a domino effect where everybody kind of influenced each other.