After recovering from an injury, Maria-Christina Oliveras returned to the role of Persephone in the North American tour of “Hadestown” in April. The tour’s stop in the Bay Area this month represents a milestone of sorts for the performer.
“Ironically, it’s been six months,” Oliveras says of her comeback, referring to her character’s deal with her devilish husband Hades to spend half the year with him in the underworld.
Unlike her character, whose time away from her role as the bringer of spring leads to drunken depression, Oliveras wasn’t idle during her recovery. She was medically cleared to take the role of Church Lady in “Between Riverside and Crazy” on Broadway while on hiatus from “Hadestown.”
Back tour with the musical, Oliveras was staying in Berkeley while the show was in San Francisco earlier this month. “Hadestown” will be presented by Broadway San Jose Sept. 26-Oct. 1.
“I’ve done a bunch of shows with Berkeley Rep, so I know Shattuck Avenue,” Oliveras says.
Oliveras is now also very familiar with the underworld as reimagined by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the show’s music, lyrics and book and developed it with director Rachel Chavkin. “Hadestown” won eight Tony awards in 2019, including best musical, and Mitchell and Chavkin picked up awards for best book and original score and best direction, respectively.
“Anais is a poet, and her music is stunning,” Oliveras says, adding that the show “is very much an epic poem set to music.”
“Hadestown” retells the myths of Hades and Persephone and of Orpheus and Eurydice using jazz and folk music and a contemporary industrial setting. While the older couple deals with their troubled marriage, the young lovers try to reunite in the underworld, where Eurydice is trapped and forced to help build a wall around Hades.
Persephone may be at the end of her tether in “Hadestown,” but unlike the goddess of the original Greek myth, who gets kidnapped and transported to the underworld, she’s with Hades by choice.
“In our world, she’s deeply in love with her husband,” Oliveras says, adding that her character grows during the course of the show. “She’s renewed by Orpheus and Eurydice’s love. She uses it to reach out to her husband. It’s a huge turning point for her.”
The show has the look and feel of Depression-era New Orleans, but it’s not set in a specific time or place.
“A lot of the music is from that era,” Oliveras says, “but it’s a timeless world.”
“Hadestown” was conceived as a song cycle, and the show still has only minimal dialogue.
“The stories of love are epic,” Oliveras says. “I can’t say it; I have to sing it.”
It’s appropriate, then, that Orpheus uses music to try to bring spring back to the world and end the famine and harsh weather that come whenever Persephone returns to the underworld. To Oliveras, that striving is what makes the myths the show is based on so timeless.
“We have the tragedy of life,” she says, “but we move forward every century, every day, with hope.”
“Hadestown” runs Sept. 26-Oct. 1 at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd. For tickets, visit broadwaysanjose.com.