Will Mann, a cast member of Hadestown, is looking forward to walking his dog through the Dallas Arts District when the national tour of Tony Award-winning musical stops in Dallas. It’s just one of many things he plans to do while he is in his hometown.
Presented by the Dallas Summer Musicals, Hadestown is playing at the Winspear Opera House in the Dallas Arts District from Jan. 18-30.
Mann’s homecoming plans include spending quality time with his family, giving a special birthday gift to his niece, and grabbing a salad from Eatzi’s, a burger at Wingfield’s, and some tacos and elote at Fuel City.
“I’ve told the cast, ‘We’re gonna get some cups of corn from a gas station,’” Mann said.
Mann moved to the Dallas area when he was a teenager. He graduated from Duncanville High School. His high school choir director, Maria Green, encouraged him to pursue music. He attended the University of North Texas for two years before transferring to Oklahoma City University to earn a degree in music with a focus on musical theater.
He worked at several North Texas theaters, including Casa Mañana and Dallas Theater Center before moving to New York City in 2006. His Broadway credits include Oklahoma! and Memphis and his national tours include Memphis, Billy Elliott, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Elf and Wonderful Town.
“I’m officially a New Yorker,” Mann said.
When the pandemic shut down Broadway and national tours, Mann remained in Brooklyn. While doing a play in St. Louis, he was cast in Hadestown, his first national tour since the pandemic began.
“Being able to do what I love is paramount,” Mann said. “I don’t believe our gifts are for ourselves. Our gifts are to be given so to be able to utilize my gifts is very fulfilling to me. It means the world to me that we can do what we can even though we’re not 100% where were before the pandemic.”
With pandemic protocols in place, this tour is unlike Mann’s previous national tours.
“One of the major differences is our connection to the audience as far as post-show at the stage door. We’re not allowed to take pictures, sign autographs, and be with the people,” Mann said. “I’ve been working on a digital stage door.”
Hadestown combines the ancient myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and Persephone, adding some New Orleans-flavored musical sass and soul.
“It’s about humanity, trust, and love, and music and connection and I think these things are universal and they last forever,” Mann said.
Mann connected with the musical’s unique sound.
“I remember the first time I heard the soundtrack. I was like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard on any stage, Broadway or other places.’ It resonated immediately with me,” Mann said. “Hadestown really encouraged voices that are independent and unique. When you listen to the soundtrack or come to see the show on Broadway or on tour, you’re going to get a completely different experience because we were all encouraged to bring ourselves to the piece and it doesn’t fly unless we bring who we are to the story and to the music.”
Mann plays a worker in Hadestown. The five workers always appear together, making up an omnipresent Greek chorus.
“We fill the story and make it all come to life. Where there’s magic involved, we provide a lot of that. Plus, all the workers have to be understudies so there are powerhouse singers and actors in the workers’ chorus because they have to step into one of those principal roles and sail,” Mann said.
Mann started a TikTok account to promote the talent of understudies and swings. Mann’s efforts come at a time when Charlotte St. Martin, the President of The Broadway League, blamed understudies and swings for Broadway cancellations during the recent Omicron surge.
“My educated guess is the newer shows maybe have understudies that aren’t as efficient in delivering the role as the lead is. Some of the older shows have more experienced understudies and more experienced swings,” St. Martin told The Hollywood Reporter on Dec. 21.
After an uproar from the theater community, St. Martin apologized.
Mann wants to educate the audience about how invaluable understudies and swings are, especially during the pandemic.
“Understudies and swings have always been the backbone of Broadway and they get the least amount of recognition. The talent it takes to do eight shows a week and to flip and to be someone else at a moment’s notice is huge,” Mann said.
Mann understands the audience might be disappointed when the star is not performing at a specific show.
“It doesn’t matter which show you see, if you come and see that a star isn’t in a show, you’re still going to get an amazing experience,” Mann said.
For the cast, the performance of an understudy presents a creative challenge.
“When something new is introduced, it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re on our toes and we’re alive.’ And it feels really refreshed and new,” Mann said.
Fans of Hadestown love understudies and swings. Mann received a message from a fan who heard he would be playing Hermes in a specific show. The fan was a larger man who identified with Mann.
“He bought a ticket immediately and drove three hours to see my show because he said he had never seen someone who looked like him take center stage and not be the sidekick or the comedy relief. It was the star and he looked like me,” Mann said. “We really touch these people.