Actor Kingsley Leggs Talks About His Role in the Musical HADESTOWN
Broadway actor Kingsley Leggs, who originated the roles of Mister in The Color Purple and Curtis Jackson in Sister Act, joined the cast of Hadestown for the new production at Citadel Theatre. Leggs plays Hermes, the liaison between the mortal world and the afterlife, in the Canadian Premiere of the most anticipated show of the season. The Citadel's Sydnee Bryant spoke with Leggs about his role and the importance of diversity.
Citadel Theatre: When did you first become involved with Hadestown?
Kingsley Leggs: Now! I auditioned last spring. This is my first time working on the piece.
CT: Were you familiar with the show prior to your audition?
KL: No, not at all. I guess I must have missed it when it was in New York - maybe I was on tour or something. I had no knowledge of it all until the audition. Then I started listening to the soundtrack and I thought, 'Wow, this is really cool.' I'm glad to be here.
CT: Had you heard the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice prior to landing this role?
KL: Roughly. I probably read some things about it when I was in school, many, many years ago. So I had to re-familiarize myself with [the story]. I started to read the whole thing but it's a lot of reading. I did some research on Hermes and who he was. We're telling that tale in a very contemporary, musical context so I really wanted to understand that context foremost and then reference the story. It's wonderful the way that they're telling the story. A lot of people know the story but the score and the music puts it in another place. It takes the mysticism out of it.
CT: How would you describe Hermes?
KL: He's the liaison between the mortal world and the afterlife. He's the conductor. He's sly, a trickster. Many feel that he's always working for his own advantage. I think because he's able to function in both worlds and see both sides, his capacity for heartfelt sentiment is great because he does see things from both sides. He roots for the lovers; he wants the lovers to win. But he also knows the tale. It's a really interesting thing to play because it's a lot of balance and a lot of strategic work in terms of how he functions. I think he has a soft spot for Orpheus; he has a soft spot for love. I find it really exciting. I find the building of it really intriguing; that's the most challenging part.
CT: What's it like working with Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell on Hadestown?
KL: I love them both so much. They're both so incredibly talented. I did a concert with Rachel in Brooklyn a few months before I came here. They were both at my audition and it was a wonderful time. I was working on another project and, on my lunchbreak, I ran to do this audition for Hadestown. It was a lot of material. I wasn't as prepared as I wanted to be. But I was ready to dive into it. And they were so kind and gracious. Anaïs sang with me. I had such a great time at the audition. I remember leaving and saying, 'I don't even care if I get this or not because it was such a good time at that audition,' and that's rare sometimes. Auditioning can be stressful. And I really appreciated the experience I had in that audition and, of course, you always want to get the job but that wasn't the main thing [for me] because I had such a good time. They're both so talented at what they do, and clear. Anaïs is an amazing writer. Her words are really wonderful and taste good in your mouth; her melodies are wonderful. I think Rachel's brilliant and very clear, and really knows how to tell a story. I'm really excited about putting all of this together. It's a very interesting piece because everything is part of the story-telling. I mean, that's generally the case - the costumes, the lights help to tell the story - but in this case, it's even more so because we're creating a real world that is a bit abstract. It's going to be exciting to be on the set and see the clothes and the lights and all of that.
CT: You've originated some great roles on Broadway. When you're the first in a role, is that process similar to your experience sizing up Hadestown's new production on a proscenium stage?
KL: I'm not the first person to do this role but this is its own process and it's sort of like starting new because the show is growing from what it was in previous productions. So it's the same kind of development work and that's always exciting - to be a part of something that is new and coming into its own.
CT: Do you have a favourite number or scene that you've rehearsed so far?
KL: It sounds cliché but I really do love all of it. As this role is developing, I'm just loving every second of [Hermes]. In Act 1, I kind of never leave! I'm out there the whole time. It's always fun to play that kind of part of someone who is a storyteller but also functions inside of the story. I think that's exciting - that's interesting to me. I love those kinds of roles. One of my favourite songs I'm not even in. I love the Fates singing When The Chips Are Down. And the choreography is great. It really would be difficult to pick out one thing because I really do love it all. I loved it when I just heard [the music]; now that I'm hearing it, singing it and inside of it, I just love it even more. We have a brilliant creative team. David Neumann is coming up with some incredible choreography that really serves the piece and grounds it in a really specific way that has a personality that is a great marriage to the material. The whole experience is pretty exciting. I think it's going to be a wonderful experience for Edmontonians. I think everyone's going to have a really good time. It's going to be something different that maybe they've never seen. Even if they're familiar with the story, they've never seen it told in this way. And it's a great cast of incredibly talented artists who are all working hard to make this vision as wonderful as it can be.
CT: Some of the cast has worked together before but most of you are new to the production. How is that chemistry?
KL: It's always great to have people involved who know the material and have lived inside of it because they can set the tone. It's a good thing to have those people there because they ground the newbies and help you understand where the piece lives.
CT: The cast is quite diverse, especially for a show in Edmonton. Do you find that or is the casting similar to what it would be like for a New York show?
KL: I think the answer to the question would be yes but maybe that would not be the answer to the question years ago. I think we're in a time now where diversity is in the consciousness of our culture because it has not been in the past, so people are actively working to make productions and life in general more diverse. We are a changing world; we have changed. Whether you like it or not, whether you're comfortable or not, these are the realities. I think it's important to present art that represents all people - that everyone can look up there [on stage] and see themselves. Certain stories of this nature - myths or things that are based on fairytales - it's irrelevant what colour someone is or what nationality they are. If you have an opportunity to do that, why not?
CT: One of mandates of the Citadel's Artistic Director Daryl Cloran was to make the Citadel Inclusive, Innovative, and International.
KL: He's coming in with a bang! I was looking at the shows this season and I thought, 'this is the way to do it - shake it up.' Sometimes things have to be shaken up. And you have to train your audience - you have to educate them and train them. That's part of the process and responsibility of an arts institution. Otherwise, you won't grow properly, just like we, as people, as humans, we have to learn new things. I'm getting older now and my career - I've been doing this for over 30 years. I became a bit jaded as I watched things change around me. I'm not always ready or welcoming of change but change is the only thing that you can count on, so we all have to embrace new ideas and new ways of doing things so we grow. And I think it's the same with institutions.
Hadestown runs November 11 to December 3, 2017, at the Citadel Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 780.425.1820 or visit www.citadeltheatre.com.