By Nancy Salz – April, 2019
As the cast of Hadestown bounds onto the stage waving enthusiastically at the audience before the show beings you are immediately struck by its wonderful diversity. No majority or minority groups here! Yet once the cast starts singing and dancing all thoughts of diversity give way to their characters, energy and enormous talent.
Hadestown is a nearly sung-through musical. (They’re calling it a folk opera, not that there are any folk songs.) The story is based on the myth of Orpheus who falls in love with Eurydice. She has been seduced by Hades to enter his underworld, where men and women toil ceaselessly in the near-dark. They live to work. Perhaps Hades found Eurydice and seduced her during the six months of the year when his lover, Persphone, leaves him to roam the earth. Orpheus goes down into the dark world to try to retrieve his lover and bring her back to earth. Hades allows Eurydice to follow Orpheus up – and she can follow him as long as long as he never looks back to see if she’s still there. If you know the myth, you know what happens.
Hermes, the narrator, sings to us at the top of the show
“It’s a sad song
It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy.
It’s a sad song
But we sing it anyway”
Everything about the show – performers, choreography, scenery – was very impressive. Everything, that is, except the music. The lyrics are excellent and move the story forward poetically. They express character and mood. But all the songs soon blend together, each resembling the other. The emotion and sound are all at one level: Intense and ear-splitting. And mostly one tempo: Fast. Only the song Orpheus composes throughout the show even approaches a ballad. However, many in the audience the day I attended were high schoolers on their spring break, and they boisterously cheered each number. About a half hour into the first act, I surrendered to the story and performers and was able to accept the music for what it was. It’s possible upon repeated hearings I would be able to tell one song from another.
The performers are mainly superlative. André De Shields of Ain’t Misbehavin’ fame glides his way around the stage as the narrator of the story. You hang on every word he speaks or sings. Patrick Page, looking every inch like Roger Stone, is enormously evil and oily as Hades. His bio says he’s a baritone, but his speaking and singing voice sounded deep bass. The sound technician often adds reverb to his songs and spoken lines making his character even spookier. Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzales-Nacer and Kay Trinidad perfectly blend their harmonies as the Fates. The petite Eva Noblezada as Euridice stops you cold with the power and emotion in her voice. (In Hades she plaintively sings out to Orpheus “Come and find me in the bed I made.”) The talented Amber Gray belts out all her songs to the delight of the audience. Only Reeve Carney as Orpheus left me cold. He has a very high tenor voice and often veered into falsetto making for a nebbish-y Orpheus.
Much of the credit for this imaginative production goes to the power behind the scenes. Rachel Chavkin, who directed The Great Comet a few years ago, brings her extraordinary ingenuity to this production: The revolving stages, the rising and falling center stage, the on-set musicians (seven strong), miner’s lights on workers in the underworld, industrial lights that are hung on chains and swung around the stage.
Or perhaps the credit for these belongs to lighting designer Bradley King. The lighting was very effective, whether for mood setting or special results. David Neumann is responsible for the vigorous choreography, some of which is reminiscent of Donald McKayle’s modern dance work Rainbow Round My Shoulder.
Anaȉs Mitchell created the lyrics, music and book on which Hadestown is based. Before it was a musical, it was a concept album. The show played off-Broadway and in London before this Broadway production.
As Come From Away, Hadestown is a show defined by its spirit. It’s likely that it will capture many awards of the 2018-2019 season. My low opinion of the music is subjective and perhaps even age-related. If you love musicals, do check out Hadestown.
Music, lyrics and book by Anaȉs Mitchell; Designed and directed by Rachel Chavkin; Choreographed by David Neumann; Musical Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Liam Robinson; Lighting Design by Bradley King; Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Michael Krass; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.
With Reeve Carney; Andre De Shields; Amber Gray; Eva Noblezada; Patric Page and Jewelle Blackman; Yevette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad and an ensemble of nine singers/dancers.