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Watson goes from Cleveland to ‘Hadestown’ and back

For Nyla Watson, the 15th — or maybe it was the 16th — time was the charm.

The Cleveland native estimated that’s how many times she auditioned for “Hadestown” before being cast as one of the Fates in the national tour, which comes to her hometown for a three-week run beginning Tuesday at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace.

Her first audition was shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down both Broadway and touring productions, and the audition requests continued as theaters began to reopen.

“A friend told me, if they keep calling you in, they’re just trying to find a spot to put you,” Watson said. “My Bible says, ‘Be not weary while welldoing.’ I kept going. It was a long process, but it was worth every second. It’s really God’s timing. If I’d booked it in the first year, I might not be part of the second year and coming to Cleveland for three weeks.”

Watson got her start singing in the church and didn’t really discover musical theater until she was a teenager. One of those pivotal experiences in her future career choice was a “Lion King” theater camp that allowed her to see the musical at Playhouse Square. She also ushered at the theater as part of its STARS volunteer program so she could see shows ranging from “Wicked” to “12 Angry Men” for free.

Two years after graduating from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, Watson was traveling the country in the national tour of “Wicked.”

“That felt like kismet, it felt like destiny to do that show, which is quintessential musical theater in my mind,” Watson said. “To be a part of something that is the definition of the art form I want to be a part of is an overwhelming compliment.”

Watson also did a national tour of “The Color Purple,” and she made her Broadway debut in the post-COVID revival of “Waitress” in 2021. Watson was the only person in the cast who hadn’t done the show before, and she got a the role in the ensemble and as the understudy for Becky without auditioning specifically for that show.

“I had auditioned for something completely different,” she said. “I had a relationship with the casting director, who trusted I would do good work … God resurrected it for me.”

God gets frequent mentions from Watson, but it’s the devil who is one of the principal characters in “Hadestown.”

The Anais Mitchell musical draws from two love stories from Greek mythology — King Hades and Persephone as well as Orpheus and Eurydice — and uses them to address contemporary issues ranging from climate change to the exploitation of workers.

It won eight Tony Awards in 2019, including best new musical and best score, and the creative team responsible for mounting the production on Broadway, where it still is playing, is overseeing the tour.

Among the show’s many producers on its path to Broadway are two Mahoning Valley natives, Michael Moritz Jr. and Joey Monda.

Watson is the understudy for Persephone and one of three Fates, characters who serve the role of a Greek chorus in the story and reveal the thoughts of the main characters.

“It is the most beautiful show,” Watson said. “It’s so different from any other musical I’ve ever seen. It’s so operatic, so dramatic, you have to be a multi-hyphenate to do this show. Everyone is more than one thing. Coming into a cast where this level of talent is a prerequisite is such a huge compliment to me, little Nyla from the hood of Cleveland, Ohio.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Hadestown”

WHEN: Tuesday through Feb. 19. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Connor Palace, Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $25 to $120 and are available online at playhousesquare.org and by calling 216-241-6000.

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