Jewelle Blackman, Mus’01, will be entertaining audiences on Broadway this summer in the lead role of Persephone in the hit production of Hadestown. She shares what she loves about musical theatre, her early days on stage at Queen’s, and how it’s possible for an introvert to step into the spotlight – and love it.
For Jewelle Blackman, a Queen’s graduate in theatre and film, years of professional investment paid a tidy dividend this spring. That’s when she took over the lead role of Persephone in the Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway production of Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell. Based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown explores the fraught love of Persephone and her husband, Hades, the lord of the underworld, and includes multiple themes that resonate powerfully in the 21st century. Ms. Blackman, a Toronto native, began dancing, singing, and playing violin and piano at a young age. She performed in productions at Queen’s before completing her bachelor’s degree and then continued with stage, television, and film work in Canada and the U.S., including three summers at Stratford. She is an original cast member in Hadestown, playing one of the Fates starting in 2019; she also became the understudy for Persephone until landing the part full-time.
Playing Persephone must be thrilling. How did you land the role?
It’s the first time a lead role has been up in Hadestown in years, so it’s a big deal. When I knew it was coming available, I was very forward and sent an email to my director, the choreographer, and the musical director. I titled it “Having the audacity to ask” – to ask for what I want and need. They had auditions on a Friday, and I found out on the Monday I had the role. It was amazing. That was the role I wanted when I auditioned for the show in 2017. I said, “I’m going to do that role someday.”
Can you describe Persephone and how you relate to her?
I love her range. She experiences the highest highs and the lowest lows. She’s very layered. I haven’t seen a range for a woman character like that in a very long time. And at the heart of it all, she still loves Hades and there’s still the hope they can reconnect. Having been in a relationship that started with a lot of love and passion and got to a point that you almost don’t recognize the person anymore but still see glimpses of the person you fell in love with, I can definitely relate to Persephone.
Hadestown is rooted in ancient Greek mythology. How is it relevant to 2022?
Climate change is one thing. When Persephone goes down below, the weather is horrible, and we see what’s going on with our world as it’s warming up and how that’s affecting the ecosystem. I’d also say the themes of hope, persevering, and making choices to survive and then living with that. This is not some easy musical fare, but it’s so beautifully told and the music is so stunning that it’s easy to digest.
Had you always planned a stage career?
My intent was never to be an entertainer; I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer. I did a production of A Chorus Line with Queen’s Musical Theatre and got huge accolades. Then I saw The Lion King in Toronto in the summer of my first year at Queen’s and that changed the trajectory of my life completely.
What are your most vivid memories of Queen’s?
I remember walking around that campus and those buildings and always feeling, “This is a beautiful school.” Being involved in Queen’s musical theatre was where I got ready for all the other things I would do later. And I got to sing with a jazz band. I had a lot of freedom at Queen’s to try things out.
What do you like about performing?
I consider myself a bit of an introvert, but if you put me on stage, it’s, “Everybody, look at me.” I think I always had that as a child – it was something innate in me. It’s just a release, to put your all into being another person. It’s the freedom you have; you’re putting parts of you into the character to make it more authentic, parts of yourself you might be scared to reveal otherwise. It’s cathartic to just let yourself go like that.
Why does musical theatre appeal to you so strongly?
There’s this world of fantasy and different kinds of possibility. You’re in a different realm of reality. Imagine if, when our emotions became too much or we were feeling so ecstatic, we broke into song. I love that about musical theatre.
Along with playing Persephone, you’re writing two commissioned musicals. What are they about?
Boy Boy and the Magic Drum is from a children’s book by Machel Montano, a famous Trinidadian recording artist. It’s about a little boy with his drum who rallies everyone, about coming together and not giving up. My newest commission, The Trials and Triumphs of a Tar Baby, was inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye. It’s about two dark-skinned women growing up. I guess both are a lot about race; it’s a lot of me.