Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of How I Learned What I Learned
Hadestown is a reimagining (by composer/lyricist/bookwriter Anaïs Mitchell) of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that addresses–at least metaphorically–issues of climate change, workers' rights, wealth inequality, and abuses of power. In this version, Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) is a street urchin, seeking food and shelter from the environment described in "Any Way the Wind Blows": "You would do anything just to fill your belly full of food, find a bed that you could fall into where the weather wouldn't follow you wherever you go." In this world, there is no spring or fall, only blazing summers and bone-chilling winters.
When she meets Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), it's love at first sight: "Come home with me," is the very first thing he sings to her. When he tells her he also plays the lyre, she quips "Oh! A liar and a playa, too." But once she learns he's composing a song that will bring spring back to the world and that he can make her feel alive again, she warms, but still wants to know where they will get the wedding bands, "times being what they are–hard and getting harder all the time." Eurydice relents to Orpheus's infectious optimism, but that won't end the hard times for the lovers.
If you are familiar with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, you know that Hades (an amazing Kevyn Morrow) will enslave her in the Underworld, forcing Orpheus to find a secret way into his lair to bring her back into the world of sun and sky and flowers. Spoiler alert: they almost make it. Along the way you will be treated to thrilling performances from every single member of the cast: a chorus of five; Hermes (Levi Kreis), who serves as a sort of narrator of the proceedings; three Fates (Belén Moyano, Rex Odorisio, Shea Renne), who seem to represent the chaos of a decaying world; and, of course, the king of the Underworld himself, Hades, and his on-again off-again wife, Persephone (Kimberly Marable). (Six months of the year Persephone lives with Hades in the Underworld; for the other six, she is allowed up top to see the sun and smell the flowers.)
On a massive set by Rachel Hauck, stunningly lit by Bradley King, the action rockets along to a score that is both haunting and highly rhythmic. The set, with its shuttered windows and verdigris walls put me in mind of New Orleans, as did Mitchell's amazing score. With highly dramatic, tragic stories, it's easy for a composer to fall into the trap of assaulting the audience with one giant anthem after another (I'm looking at you, Les Misérables), which tends to flatten the dynamic range of the show. Anaïs Mitchell avoids that pitfall with songs that range from heartbreaking ("Gone, I'm Gone) to celebratory ("Livin' It Up on Top") to downright spine-chilling ("Why We Build The Wall.")
There are no weak players in the cast, direction is spot on (director Rachel Chavkin gives us one glorious tableau after another), and the orchestra led by Nathan Koci gives us a sound that feels like a walk through the French Quarter with jazz and blues pouring out of every doorway, without feeling at all derivative.
Ultimately, though, the dark thread running through Hadestown is the sense that neither Orpheus and Eurydice, nor the workers of Hadestown are truly in control of their fate: it's the gods and the power structure who control both the Underworld and its sunlit counterpart, and all the dreamers and schemers and lovers and losers are merely pawns in a cosmic game. Despite this rather depressing thought, Hadestown still manages to be joyous, thrilling, and eminently entertaining.
Hadestown runs through July 3, 2022, at SHN's Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56-$256. For tickets and information, please call 888-746-1799 or visit broadwaysf.com. For more information on the tour, visit hadestown.com/tour.