An Epic Journey to the Underworld, Made New

An Epic Journey to the Underworld, Made New

Hello, Theatrical Board! It’s been a while. In the past few months, I’ve been on hiatus along with the rest of the site. I’ve been keeping busy - my spring semester is quite the workload, a short play of mine is going up in May at my school, and any free time I can I’m at the theatre seeing something. So far this spring season I’ve only been to a couple of shows, but one of the shows I’m most enamored by is a new musical that seemingly has arrived on Broadway to fill a void in my soul I’ve been desperate to fill: Hadestown. Could this be my new Great Comet?

Hadestown is the Greek myth of Orpheus and Persephone retold by folk musician Anaïs Mitchell and staged by the visionary Rachel Chavkin. With help from an energetic chorus of Hadestown wall-workers, the messenger god Hermes narrates the intertwined myth of Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades, and Persephone. In a post-apocalyptic world affected by drastic climate change and poverty, songwriter Orpheus and his muse Eurydice fall in love as Persephone’s spring and summer visits above ground grow shorter and shorter. When Orpheus’ struggle to finish his latest opus fails to put food on the table, a desperate Eurydice takes an offer from Hades. If she goes down to his domain to sign away her life to work on his wall, he’ll give her all the security she needs. When Orpheus finds out where his lover has gone, he goes on a journey down to Hadestown to find a way to convince Hades to free her. How he goes about that and if he succeeds… well, if you know the myth, you’ll be prepared for what comes next. If you aren’t familiar… well, either way, prepare for tears and chills and gasps of awe.

Director Rachel Chavkin’s last Broadway endeavor was the beloved and dearly missed Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Her gift for inventive, thrilling staging returns in even more glorious shape with Hadestown. Some of the stage pictures and moments she creates (with aid from Rachel Hauck’s set design and lighting design by Comet’s Bradley King) are so unlike anything I’ve ever seen done on a Broadway stage: at one point the set quite literally expands, and the stage makes creative use of a turntable that turns into an elevator. There are at least four musical numbers that left me either full out jaw-dropped or weeping uncontrollably, and it’s all thanks to Chavkin’s brilliant work. Someone give this woman a Genius Grant - if Comet was her In The Heights, Hadestown is her Hamilton. Anais Mitchell’s eclectic score is derived partially from her 2010 concept album, and I hope she writes more musical theatre scores down the line. The sounds of Hadestown are folky, New Orleans-jazzy, and completely electrifying. I haven’t heard a Broadway musical with a score this unique and perfectly suited to the storytelling since maybe Comet. Perhaps Ms. Mitchell is the female Dave Malloy.

But how’s the cast? As our master of ceremonies, Andre De Shields is a classy and cool Hermes. He commands the stage with charm and ease; there’s a reason he’s a Broadway icon. Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad make up the trio of Fates who present the challenges faced by every character in the story; almost every move they make is synchronized and their harmonies are stunning. These three are mesmerizing to watch. The Chorus (Afra Hines, Timothy Hughes, John Krause, Kimberly Marable, and Ahmad Simmons) are immensely talented and propel the choreography and Hermes’ storytelling of the musical forward.

Orpheus is played by Reeve Carney of Spider-Man infamy; he plays the muses’ son as a bit of a maybe-autistic savant. Hermes notes at one point that Orpheus is “touched” as well as touched by the gods. He’s bad at reading Eurydice’s social cues, and has a noticeable hyperfocus songwriting work. As someone on the spectrum who is also a writer, this direction for the character is a choice that absolutely works for me. Thanks to his flawless rock falsetto, Carney’s takes on Orpheus’ many epic songs are absolutely haunting.

Eurydice is played by Miss Saigon’s Eva Noblezada; I never saw her in Saigon but her take on this doomed lover is heartbreaking and gutsy, and her voice is gorgeous. On the side of the Gods are Hades and his wife the goddess of seasons, Persephone. Amber Gray’s Persephone is a tipsy free spirit when above ground, and a bitter but powerful presence in her husband’s domain. She gets some terrifically fun numbers and brings a lightness when things in the story get dark; she should play Eartha Kitt someday. And finally…. I may be a lesbian, but Patrick Page’s Hades is the textbook definition of “Daddy Material.” He’s got the most delicious basso profundo and makes every acting choice so precisely devilish, you can’t help but fall for him.

When I saw Hadestown for the first time, I came in with lots of hype and no expectations. By intermission, I felt the void left by the untimely closing of Comet start to fill. I’ve already made a return visit. Thanks to its mesmerizing score, excellent cast, breathtaking design, and genius level direction, I think I’ve found a new home at the Walter Kerr. Don’t walk, run to Hadestown. It’s the front runner for the Tonys this year for excellent reason, and tickets will be scarce by nomination day.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Correction: An earlier version of this article spelled Amber Gray’s name as Amber Grey.