Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Hadestown was created by singer-composer Anaïs Mitchell and first presented on stage far from the bright lights, in Barre, Vermont in 2006. In 2010, Mitchell released the score as a concept album, which led her to connect with director Rachel Chavkin. The two further developed the work, adding songs, and in 2016 mounted a staging at the New York Theatre Workshop, the Off-Broadway outfit that had given birth to Rent two decades earlier. From there Hadestown traveled to London, to Edmonton, and in spring 2019 arrived on Broadway, where it played to sold out houses for a year until the pandemic shutdown–and continues there anew.
The show weaves together two Greek myths, both set largely in the underworld. Orpheus is a human, but the son of Apollo, who gifted his son with a lyre that enabled Orpheus to create the Earth's most beautiful music and poetic verse. He falls in love with Eurydice, and they form a happy marriage until she dies of a snake bite and is taken to Hades, the underworld. Mitchell makes some alterations here, but the basic flow of the story remains. Heartbroken Orpheus ventures into the underworld to see his beloved, making it past a host of hazards. Hades, king of the underworld that bears his name, makes a deal with Orpheus to bring Eurydice back with him to live above the Earth. The deal requires Orpheus to have a degree of faith uncommon among mortals, making the outcome uncertain.
Before this, Hades falls in love with Persephone, daughter of the goddess of agriculture, Demeter. Persephone is forever associated with fertility. Hades abducts Persephone and brings her to live with him as Queen of the Underworld. At first Persephone is disconsolate, but does come to love Hades. Still, she longs to be above and bring forth vegetation on the Earth. A deal is arranged whereby Persephone spends eight months of the year above ground, but must return to Hades for four months, thus creating the cycle of the seasons, with the cold, dark winter being the time Persephone is absent from the Earth's surface.
The show opens with the entire cast entering, big smiles on their faces as they wave a greeting to the audience. Folks, we are in this together. We hear first from Hermes, messenger of the gods, who serves as an empathic narrator. Three women in louche attire form a Greek chorus (the Fates), commenting on the action and sometimes challenging characters to take action. Mitchell's rhapsodic score, striped with jazz, blues, gospel, and folk music, turns out one haunting number after another, performed by a pumped-up band set up on platform at either side of the stage. The inclusion of a trombone and an accordion in the instrumentation injects a depth of tones, at times mournful, at other times Mardi Gras dizzy. The entire score is a work of beauty, whether expressing the rapture of pure love or despair in the bowels of hell.
The result is a gripping narrative that speaks at many levels. Early on, Orpheus effuses over Persephone's generosity, bring forth all manner of fruits from the earth, stating that "as long as we don't take too much, we will always have enough. She will always fill our cups, and we will always raise them up." There will be abundance, and we will all show gratitude. This contrasts starkly with the underworld, where those entrapped by Hades labor to produce wealth that they never taste. They are driven to keep out their enemy, which, they are told is poverty, and yet poverty is all they have for their exhausting, ceaseless work. The metaphor for our industrial capitalist society is unmistakable. The final scenes, with everything riding on Orpheus's ability to fend off doubt, is racked with suspense, filtering into our own psyches to ask ourselves would we be up to the challenge.
Director Rachel Chavkin's production draws from the most elemental forms of theater, while using low-tech effects in ways that can only be called a work of genius, creating a show that constantly engages the eye, the ear, the mind, and the heart. In addition to Hadestown's Tony Award for Best Musical, it brought home Tonys for Chavkin's unerring direction, as well as for the scenic design, sound design, and lighting design–all of which are on full view on stage. While its costumes, designed by Michael Krass, were not so honored–losing to Bob Mackie's recreations of Cher's garish get-ups for The Cher Show (go figure)–they are as essential to the totality of Hadestown as every other element. And, I doubt I will ever forget the chartreuse dress Persephone wears when she is above ground, one that practically screams "source of all chlorophyl!" My only criticism design-wise is of the repeated use of blinding white lights directed out to the audience. The point could be made with one use–after that it is just annoying.
Dance is also a strong component of Hadestown. Every movement states something about the character's frame of mind, while David Neumann's choreography expresses the emotional backdrop of each scene, whether anguish in the inferno that is Hadestown, or pastoral joy when Persephone's touch delivers spring. The ensemble, refreshingly, comprises players with a range of body types and sizes, and every one performs with lithe grace.
The cast on stage on opening night was phenomenal, though two of the lead performers, Nicholas Barash as Orpheus and Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice, were replaced by Chibueze Ihuoma and Sydney Parra, respectively. Both Ihuoma and Parra would otherwise be part of the "workers" ensemble; they were replaced in those roles by swing cast members Ian Coulter-Buford and Alex Lugo. In addition, Lindsey Hailes was out of the ensemble, replaced by swing cast member Eddie Noel Rodriguez. That's a lot of switching things around, but you would never know it from my seat in the audience. Not a beat was missed all night.
Levi Kreis, a Tony Award winner (Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Million Dollar Quartet) plays the narrator, Hermes. Kreis displays Hermes' capacity to speak truth to all of the other characters, while having a depth of understanding about the trials each of them endures. His delivery of the number that both opens and closes the show, "Road to Hell," reaches down to the bone. Kimberly Marable, who was one of the three Fates when Hadestown opened on Broadway, has Persephone's exuberance and pouty defiance well in hand. She is a fountain of joy in "Livin' It Up on Top" and has the house in the palm of her hands with the second act opener, "Our Lady of the Underground." Kevyn Morrow's Hades is impassive, stone-faced, and unyielding, drawing upon the deepest of vocal registers to bring menace to "Hey, Little Songbird" and "Why We Build the Wall."
Chibueze Ihuoma is wonderful as Orpheus, with the beautiful voice required for this son of the god of music. His gestures and responses toward Eurydice convey the depth and purity of his love. His song "Wait for Me" is a message of heartrending longing. Sydney Parra brings out Eurydice's weariness, her resistance to allowing herself to love in a world she knows to be cruel, and then her utter falls, first happily into love and then despairingly into the misery of Hadestown. She has a lovely, expressive voice and when she and Parra sing together, their pairing seems fated. Speaking of fate, the three actors–Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne–cast as the Fates are marvelous, spraying a sassy attitude around the proceedings and reveling in harmonies in "When the Chips Are Down" and "Word to the Wise."
Hadestown is musical theater stepping forward onto new ground, while maintaining the best of its foundational traditions–the use of music and dance not as diversions from a story, but as an integral part of telling the story. It is fully deserving of the acclaim heaped upon it and is not to be missed.
Hadestown runs through March 20, 2022, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $40.00 - $159.00. Educator and Student rush tickets, when available, cash only, limit of two tickets per ID. For tickets and information call 612-339-7007 or go to hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, see hadestown.com/tour.php.
Book, Music and Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell; Developed and Directed by: Rachel Chavkin; Choreographer: David Neumann; Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck; Costume Design: Michael Krass; Lighting Design: Bradley King; Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz; Hair Design: Jennifer Mullins; Dramaturg: Ken Cerniglia; Arrangements and Orchestrations: Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose; Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements: ,Liam Robinson; Music Director and Conductor: Cody Owen Stine; Music Coordinator: David Lai; Casting: Stewart/Whitley; Production Stage Manager: Paige Grant; Associate Choreographer: Katie Rose McLaughlin.
Cast: Nicholas Barasch (Orpheus), Morgan Siobhan Green (Eurydice), Lindsey Hailes (Workers Chorus), Chibueze Ihuoma (Workers Chorus), Levi Kreis (Hermes), Will Mann (Workers Chorus), Kimberly Marable (Persephone), Kevyn Morrow (Hades), Belén Moyano (Fates), Bex Odoriso (Fates), Sydney Parra (Workers Chorus), Shea Renne (Fates), Jamari Johnson Williams (Fates).