In a World of Gods Among Men --- A Look at Hadestown

In a World of Gods Among Men --- A Look at Hadestown

If you read my last article before the break, I said Hadestown was my most anticipated Broadway musical this year. In this article, I wanted to point out several reasons Hadestown is likely to be a different experience than others.

Hadestown started with the 2010 folk opera album of the same name by Anaïs Mitchell. The musical is a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. After premiering Off-Broadway in 2016 (featuring staging and direction by Rachel Chavkin), the production moved to the Citadel Theater in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in the fall of 2017. It ran through that winter. The most recent production was at the Royal National Theatre in London. Broadway previews start on March 22, 2019 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.  

Our story starts with Hermes (the messenger of the gods, the god of thieves, and the son of Zeus) narrating and introducing the characters. The opening scene has Orpheus, a mortal and legendary musician, and Eurydice, daughter of the god Apollo, introducing themselves to each other. Shortly thereafter, Orpheus asks Eurydice to marry him. He believes his music can provide for the both of them. Orpheus proceeds to tell the story of Hades and Persephone in song. When the musical opens, it is summer, so Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter and goddess of vegetation) enters to celebrate summer with the couple. When the season changes and winter arrives, Persephone must take the train back to her husband (Hades) and the factory, located underground in Hadestown. As winter progresses, Eurydice pleads with Orpheus to work for money for the two of them, as opposed to writing music. At the same time, Hades (known as the god of the underworld) and Persephone argue about the decline of their relationship. Hades leaves the factory to find someone who will appreciate the underground world he has created. He bumps into Eurydice, and she follows him to Hadestown.  

In Act Two, Eurydice now sees the consequence of her choice: she can never leave unless Hades decides to let her go. Orpheus finds his way to Hadestown and again asks Eurydice to marry him when he finds her. It is here that he learns about her not being able to leave. Touched by Orpheus’ talent and heartfelt song, Persephone begs Hades to let Eurydice go. After a performance for Hades himself, Hades offers a deal: if Orpheus leads the couple out of Hadestown and Eurydice follows him, they are free to pursue their lives. However, if Orpheus looks back to confirm that Eurydice is behind him, she must stay in Hadestown forever. The musical ends with Orpheus leaving and at the last moment, turning to see his love, condemning her to Hadestown forever.

The gods living within the human world and interacting with the mortals make this musical unique. Hadestown also weaves two love stories into the central plot, instead of just one. Their fates are vastly different with Persephone and Hades in a loveless marriage, and Orpheus and Eurydice as star-crossed lovers.

Most musicals take place in either the human world or a fantasy world. However, Hadestown uses both: it is set in a depression era post-apocalyptic factory and adapts mythology as the main storyline and side plot. In doing so, the audience also gets to see the world Hades created and why he wanted to keep people captive in this world. In Hadestown, the world tells a story all its own.

Music adds to Hadestown’s uniqueness as well. Its contemporary folk music fused with New Orleans jazz is something we have heard little of in musical theatre. This musical, in my opinion, would not be as well done if it had the traditional musical theatre style, or was presented as a jukebox musical. It needed a completely new style to the world of theatre, and it delivered this spectacularly.

I hope this introduced you to the fantastic new musical hitting Broadway in March.

What is your favorite musical coming in 2019? Let us know!  

(Eva Noblezada and Reeve Carney in Hadestown at the Royal National Theatre. Photo by Helen Maybanks.)