Phillip Boykin is a commanding presence in his new role in the Broadway musicial Hadestown.
Hadestown, the musicial currently on Broadway, has a charismatic new leader with the addition of Phillip Boykin’s devilishly persuasive, velvety-voiced King Hades, ruler of the Underworld.
The Grammy, Tony, and Drama Desk nominee comes to the Tony-Award winning musical after turning heads as the sinister “Crown” in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess opposite Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald.
He later wowed audiences in Broadway’s On the Town and Once on This Island, before quickly becoming a scene-stealer as one of the traveling sales quartet in The Music Man opposite Hugh Jackman.
Hadestown marks Boykin’s first time stepping in as a replacement on Broadway, and he has already proved adept at the challenge of making King Hades his own.
He spoke with The New York Independent about filling Hades’ cowboy boots, why the role is therapeutic for him, and the next musical theatre villain he would like to take on.
The New York Independent: You have had the unique opportunity to both originate roles and replace actors in existing productions. What has been the most unique challenge in taking over the role of Hades [after Patrick Page and Tom Hewitt] and how have you made it your own?
Phillip Boykin: The entire role is challenging when you come behind such great actors. When the show is formed and created around a certain actor, he gets a lot of his input incorporated into the character. Patrick asked for the tattoo and helped decide on the boots he wears. For me, I don’t know if I would have made the same discoveries or wanted the same type of things that he added to the character. It’s quite challenging to make a character your own when someone has already established it and done such an amazing job with it. I wholeheartedly love what Patrick did with the role! I’m up to the challenge and I’m making it my own. I have little things that I’ve asked for and they so graciously gave them to me.
Phillip Boykn is devilishly persuasive and velvety-voiced as King Hades.
NYI: You have added a certain suave demeanor and swagger that are so unique to your own persona. How did you prepare to fill Hades’ big shoes?
PB: I was given some direction when I was preparing for the role. There were several things that I couldn’t make sense of, at first. For example, I couldn’t connect to a gesture, or I was told to list my hand at a certain point and bring it down slowly. I understood why they wanted it; they had seen it that way over and over again. But I struggled to make it real for me. I would ask myself, ‘“’Why would he have the impetus to raise his hand and bring it down slowly?’”’ I struggled with it, but I searched my mind and spent sleepless nights trying to figure out what they were asking for and made it real for myself.
NYI: Were you a fan of Greek mythology prior to being cast?
PB: I’m somewhat a fan, but I’m no scholar by any means. When I lived in Cleveland, I did a musical called Famous Orpheus in which I played Orpheus. I was familiar with the story coming into Hadestown, but [playwright, lyricist, and composer] Anais [Mitchell’s] writing and her compositions are so fresh, beautiful, and out of sight, that I just fell in love with the musical right away.
NYI: Long-running shows are a rarity, unfortunately. What is it about Hadestown that has given it longevity and makes it so fantastic?
PB: The way the audience connects with the story and the way they are immediately invested in the actors and the material. They forget that they know the ending. At the top of the show, Hermes says, ‘“’It’s a sad song, but we’re going to sing it anyway.’ They forget that it’s a sad story as they get invested in each of the characters, and by the time the end comes they have lost themselves in the story. The music and writing are so beautiful and clever. The choreography is eye-catching, and the direction is outrageous. I think that’s why it has gone on as long as it has and continues today.
NYI: Learning how to use the three turntables at the center of Hadestown’s set must have been daunting at first. How was your experience in rehearsing with them?
PB: They have given me nightmares! When I got on it the first time they said, ‘We understand this is your first time; if we have to stop just say “stop” and we’ll do it.’ I made it through without stopping! The people rehearsing applauded. It’s tough to get your balance. Plus, to add to the challenge of the turntables, I am wearing cowboy boots with heels while using them. That made it extra difficult. They tell you not to look down, because if you do you will likely fall. When I first got on one, I was in the center ring of the three turntables, and it was lifted up high. I looked down and got so dizzy! I always tell people I feel like a Krispy Kreme donut on the turntable because I am in the center.
Phillip Boykin charms Betty Who’s Persephone in the Broadway musical ‘Hadestown.’
NYI: You have had a number of roles on Broadway, but you’re developing a phenomenal reputation as a villain because of your deep, smooth voice. Is there a stigma attached to having such a distinctive tone?
PB: I do what I can with what I’ve been blessed with. There are other roles I can sing quite easily, but I have a lot of fun when I play the bad guy. Normally, my personality is the opposite of Crown and Hades. These roles are actually therapeutic. I get to release some anger through yelling and screaming. It’s not in my personality to do that in real life. Even if I have a real argument I don’t raise my voice. I talk normally and I don’t have to shout, because my voice is so powerful. If I did, people would whimper!
NYI : Which role is on your bucket list for which you would drop everything?
PB: I’ve always wanted to play Mufasa in The Lion King. I auditioned years ago, but I never got the role. In my last audition for him I got down to the final three, and they said when the company that they think I fit into has a spot open, they will give me a call. I’m still waiting for that call. I’d also love to play Sweeney.
NYI: When you’re not bringing down the house as Hades, what would we find you doing?
PB: I’m the founder and artistic director of the New York Gospel Brothers. I’m organizing our Japanese tour scheduled for 2024. I am also putting together a solo concert to do in New York, and I’m hoping to do a CD before I lose this fabulous voice! Producers- call me! I sing everything: gospel, jazz, pop, opera, classical, R&B….
NYI: What would you like to see people take away from Hadestown?
PB: There have been several women who have come up to me at the stage door to say that they have been married 25- or 30-years, and they know that their husbands love them, but they also know how men are sometimes programmed to think it’s a bad thing to cry or to show your love. Women have said, ‘I wish that my husband could finally show his emotions like Hades does.’ Even in my own relationship, I have sometimes struggled with being completely vulnerable. I can identify with Hades and his journey in wanting to impress Persephone with all he’s done to the underworld while she was away. That’s his way of showing his love, but she says, ‘These things don’t matter to me. I want your heart and your love.’ I want people to see that although they can’t always see it, love is there, and eventually they’ll get to the point to be like Hades and open their hearts to show it.
For more information about Hadestown or to purchase tickets, visit www.hadestown.com.