Review: Love story is secondary to mesmerizing musical talent on display in Hadestown

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Before heading out to catch the touring production of Hadestown at the Jubilee until Sunday, it’s best to brush up on your Greek mythology.

Everything about this production is first class, so it deserves a bit of advance homework.

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Anais Mitchell who wrote the music, lyrics and book for Hadestown uses the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and that of Hades and Persephone as the basis of her story of young love and artistic ambition thwarted by a draconian society under the leadership of the tyrant Hades.

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In mythology, Hades is the ruler of the underworld. In Hadestown, his factory is literally hell on earth. The workers have all signed their lives over to him in return for meager food and lodging. This is what Eurydice does when cold and famine drive her into Hades’ clutches. She loves the young musician Orpheus who promises her he is working on a song that will bring spring back, filling their hearts and bellies with plenty. But his promises can’t warm or feed her, so she takes the ill-fated train to the Hadestown mine. Hades calls Eurydice a little songbird and says his coal mine is in need of a canary, and she agrees to sign away her soul. When Orpheus learns of Eurydice’s whereabouts, he vows to go to Hadestown and rescue her.

As Hades, Matthew Patrick Quinn has the show-stopping number Why We Build the Wall which ends the first act and he ramps up the energy and Hades’ evil component. He’s a devil who drops his disguise.

Hadestown also features the god Hermes who is known as the messenger and conductor of souls to the afterlife. Hermes is also the trickster so it’s never completely clear if he is helping Orpheus or tricking him with all the advice he gives. Mitchell also incorporates the three Fates whose role it is to guide or meddle in peoples’ destinies, and  they do so with poor Eurydice and Orpheus.

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Lastly there is Persephone, who was kidnapped and seduced by Hades. She is allowed to leave his underworld lair for four months of each year, and that is what brings summer back to earth. The opening of the second act of Hadestown finds Persephone enjoying her brief yearly sojourn, and Lana Gordon makes the most of Persephone’s aria Our Lady of the Underground, interacting with the peasants and even the audience. It’s a glorious, high-spirited number.

Hermes guides the audience through the journeys of Orpheus and Eurydice which Will Mann does with great gusto. Like a circus ringmaster, he’s an imposing presence, a source of comic relief, but always with a touch of menace. He’s as dangerous as he is jovial.

As Orpheus, the naive, gifted young musician and ward of Hermes, J. Antonio Roderiguez is innocence personified. He possesses an incredible falsetto which he can turn into a powerful tenor. It’s an astonishing vocal performance.  Amaya Braganza’s Eurydice is so beautifully spirited that it’s painful to watch her descent into compliance.

Hadestown won eight Tony Awards including best musical, best original score, best lighting, scenic and sound designs, and most deservedly, best direction for Rachel Chavkin. All of this exceptional work is on display in the Hadestown at the Jubilee. Rachel Hauck’s set is a marvel with its nod to New Orleans for the upper level, and a bleak, dark abyss for the foundry beneath. Bradley King’s lighting creates mood and atmosphere at every turn.

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Chavkin’s staging gives Hadestown a brisk, eye catching momentum. There is so much wonderful detail in the way she has the actors move set pieces and use every bit of the imposing set. It’s a director in complete control of her material.

Hadestown features an eight-piece onstage orchestra whose musicians are every bit as animated as the hardworking, talented ensemble. That includes Marla Louissaint, Lizzie Markson and Hannah Schreer, who star as the fates play instruments. These are all quadruple threat actors.

Hadestown is a mesmerizing  jazz, blues, pop-rock musical. Ironically, with so much talent on display, the love story is never as involving as it should be. We watch this tragic story of thwarted young love without becoming emotionally involved, but that’s a small price to pay for such a royal evening.

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Originally posted 2023-11-22 23:36:39.