Born in Soviet-era Georgia and emigrating to the U.S. when he was eight, singer and guitarist Ilusha Tsinadze has made a name for himself in the New York music scene with his interpretations of Georgian folk music.
His latest gig: playing a blend of blues, folk and New Orleans jazz on stage in the musical Hadestown. “It’s a lot of fun,” he tells Perry Sook on The Broadway Show. “The set itself is a bar, more or less—so I feel like I’m playing in a bar band in front of a thousand people.”
Originally, Tsinadze was a sub for Michael Chorney, Hadestown’s original guitarist and orchestrator. The style of music in the show was immediately appealing to him.
“I noticed there was a lot of room in the music for each musician to sort of be themselves, to be expressive in the way that they play,” he says. “There’s a sort of free-spiritedness in this production, partly because the music itself has a lot of improvisation in it. I was very welcomed, and that made all the difference.”
When the show reopened after the pandemic, Tsinadze took on the role full-time. He has played more than 500 performances at this point, coaxing creamy sounds out of his acoustic Gibson J-45. Even so, he needs to listen intently to the sound of his immediate bandmates: Liam Robinson on piano (who also conducts), Ben Perowsky on drums and Robinson Morse on double bass. “I have to be totally locked into how they’re feeling the rhythm,” he says. “Every single time you have to give it your all to make it sound good.”
When Tsinadze and the Hadestown band aren’t on stage at the Walter Kerr Theatre, you can catch them at occasional Monday night gigs where they perform as The Underworld Orchestra. “I like to play in a lot of different contexts,” says Tsinadze. He feels right at home on Broadway. “The sense of community here, it’s kind of like going to camp, you know,” he says. “There’s the love between all the different people that work here in the cast, in the band, in the crew, the front of house, back of house. There’s such an overwhelming sense of community—and not to mention the audiences that come to every show. It’s been a very lovely experience for me to be part of this family.”