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Hadestown Review: A Hell Of a Musical

Has Hell ever sounded so thrilling? Hadestown, a sung-through musical derived from the myth of Orpheus and expanded from a concept album by Anais Mitchell, mixes sweet and sexy folk, rocking New Orleans jazz, get-down blues and sinful soul. The eight cast members who perform the 35 songs are uniformly terrific; it’s hard to imagine anybody better. If the plot strays little from the bare-bones story of Orpheus descending into Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice, the songs and the staging are enough to enchant for the two hour running time.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

Rachel Chavkin is credited with both developing and directing Hadestown. She knows something about inspired staging of innovative musicals: She also directed Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which is coming next season to Broadway. To put on Hadestown, they completely reconfigured New York Theatre Workshop into a kind of stadium seating in the round. It works well; the performers come up close to the audience on many occasions; it also evoked for me (perhaps intentionally) the rings of Hell.
This is the fitting setting for the plot: Orpheus (Damon Daunno) falls in love with Eurydice (Nabiyah Be.) In an early song, Come Home With Me, Eurydice resists:

Eurydice: A singer? Is that what you are?
Orpheus: Well, I also play the lyre
Eurydice: A liar, and a player too!
I’ve met too many men like you

Soon she is won over. In “All I’ve ever known,” she sings a catchy phrase:

All I’ve ever known is how to hold my own

But now I wanna hold you too

Damon Daunno, who is a full-out heartthrob in Hadestown, made his Broadway debut five years ago in Brief Encounter, where he charmed the audience playing ukelele and bass. Here, he wears a rebel-without-a-cause t-shirt and tight jeans with a hip rip at the knee, and sports an even hipper tattoo on his neck.

Sexy Nabiyah Be (who was in Queen of the Night) seems his ideal mate; the chemistry is explosive.

After they marry, Eurydice descends into Hadestown. In the myth, she dies. In this retelling, she makes a deal with the devil in order to fill her hungry stomach.

Orpheus goes down to rescue her. Hades (Patrick Page) makes a deal with him; he can lead them both back up to the light, if he never looks back to see if she’s following him.

There are a smattering of allusions to Depression era-like working conditions, and Hades is given some song lyrics to paint him as a heartless industrialist, such as in “Hey, Little Songbird”

I’ve got clients to call
I’ve got orders to fill
I’ve got walls to build
I’ve got riots to quell and they’re giving me hell back in Hades.

The most obvious nod to current events is the rousing song “Why We Build The Wall,” in a kind of call-and-response with the three actresses who make up The Fates:

“Why do we build the wall? My children, my children why do we build the wall?” Hades sings.

…We build the wall to keep us free.

How does the wall keep us free?….

…The wall keeps out the enemy

Patrick Page, a 12-time Broadway veteran who as the Green Goblin was the best thing about Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, is an ideal modern Hades, with his sexy gunslinger stance, his (hip) all-black attire, and especially his seductively deep, deep voice.

Chris Sullivan, who portrays Hermes like an old-time blues rocker complete with porkpie hat, functions more or less like the narrator. Amber Gray portrays Persephone, Hades’ wife, allowed to live on earth for half the year. She plays her like a 1930’s torch song singer, complete with slinky dress and flower in her hair. They are both also magnificent, as are the three Fates — Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Shaina Taub — a Greek chorus as a trio of back-up singers.

Hadestown is not a traditional musical. Think of it as a concert with benefits, but don’t resist the temptation to go.

Hear 20 of Mitchell’s songs from Hadestown (sung by other singers) in a playlist of videos of her album

Hadestown
By Anaïs Mitchell
Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin
Cast: Nabiyah Be as Eurydice, Damon Daunno as Orpheus, Lulu Fall as a Fate, Amber Gray as Persephone, Patrick Page as Hades, Jessie Shelton as a Fate, Chris Sullivan as Hermes, Shaina Taub as a Fate

Scenery by Rachel Hauck
Costumes by Michael Krass
Lighting by Bradley King
Sound by Robert Kaplowitz
Properties by Noah Mease
Arrangements & Orchestrations by Michael Chorney
Music Supervision, Co-arrangements & Orchestrations by Todd Sickafoose
Music Direction by Liam Robinson
Choreography by David Neumann
Dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia
Co-conceived by Ben t. Matchstick
Stage Manager Lindsey Turteltaub

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission.

Hadestown has extended its run through July 31.

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

3 Responses to Hadestown Review: A Hell Of a Musical

  1. Will says:

    So many people assuming the wall song is a nod to Trump…does that make Anais Mitchell a psychic for writing the song, what, six years ago?

    Saw the show tonight and loved it, also a big fan of the original concept album, released in 2010 (with the wall song).

  2. Gwendolyn Potter says:

    I heard it is wonderful, but can’t see it til first week of August. Why is it such a short run???
    Several people think it’s worthy of an award!!! Can this unusual masterpiece have an extended run?????

  3. Seti says:

    It is certainly award worthy. The last time I was so well entertained was at the first year run of RENT some 20yrs ago. The take on the myth in such clear words as “First Love”, “Trust”, “Doubt”, “Wall”,…the full development of each and every character within their appropriate weight so none is dismissive…..the acting….the band….the connective flow of each character individually and within a group frame….. Using stage elements as additional characters…..the lighting…….and that southern hint…….All and all visionary! It was two hours of pure joy! Thank you

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