HADESTOWN - Walter Kerr Theatre
HADESTOWN, the haunting and beautiful poetic folk opera that imaginatively fuses the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone, is not only a marker in the maturation of American musical but also testament to the ancient Greek’s timeless power of storytelling. Its book, lyrics and music are both labor and love of songwriter Anais Mitchell, who birthed the project in community theatre in Vermont in 2006 and concept album in 2010. Productions at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, then Edmonton’s Citadel, then London’s National Theatre followed. Now on Broadway, HADESTOWN hasn’t homogenized to its neighboring fare. HADESTOWN is boldly distinctive, emotionally resonant and uniquely refined.
Mitchell ingeniously introduces Hermes as narrator and guide to the Greek myths. Played by veteran actor, the inimitable Andre de Shields, slinking across the stage in a silver shark-skin suit, this Hermes combines the detached wisdom of Thornton Wilder’s town manager and the hip cool of Ben Vereen’s Leading Player in “Pippin”. The youthful Orpheus, played with just the right notes of naiveté by Reeve Carney, has a song to sing (here on guitar not lyre) , that grows more impassioned with his love for Eurydice, played winningly by Eva Noblezada of the most recent “Saigon” revival. Both are visited by the older, and world-weary Persephone, fabulously depicted by Amber Grey, on her seasonal forays to Earth from Hell presided over by her husband Hades, a majestically evil Patrick Page. Orpheus, grieved by Eurydice’s untimely death, through the intercession by Persephone, is allowed by Hades to bring Eurydice back to Earth from Hell but fails Hades' terms. Eurydice is doomed to return to hell. Orpheus endures forever his tragic loss.
Besides the five principle players, there is, naturally, a Greek chorus, here called the Worker’s Chorus, which is the Everyman to bear witness to the story, and a trio of Fates, three sexy ladies, who sweep in, portending narrative events. The story enfolds in a score of 28 songs (5 reprised), that blend folk with robust elements of Dixieland and blues, played by an onstage orchestra of seven outstanding musicians. (Brian Dyre’s trombone is the highlight). The musical numbers move with little interstitial recitation from one number to the next with several showstoppers, including “Livin’ It Up on Top” (a knockout Dixieland number where Persephone celebrates being “up “on earth) and the ensemble “Way Down Hadestown”.
The chorus, an incredibly athletic quintet of dancers, executes the gutsy, sensual, jazz-informed choreography of David Neuman. The direction by Rachel Chavkin is hand-in-glove with Mitchell’s musical and lyrical ethos. Chavkin, who directed the spectacular “Natasha, Pierrre & The Great Comet of 1812"” is accustomed to tales with epic sweep. But, unlike “Natasha”, spectacle doesn’t overwhelm HADESTOWN. The story prevails: the Greeks knew how to tell one and Mitchell knows how to re-tell for the now. Chavkin keeps everything in balance. Rachel Hauk’s set design set recalls settings for "Once” and “Spring Awakening” but with more grit, texture, scale and dimension. Bradley King’s lighting design is stunning, especially in its transformation of temperate earthy tones to a roasting glow of hell.
HADESTOWN has a coda, an elegant, stirring ensemble ballad that reminds us why we still tell Orpheus’ sad tale. HADESTOWN transits earth and hell, but it's heaven sent.