“Hadestown” is back from the dead, reopening with most of its original principal Broadway cast intact*. “Has Hell ever sounded so thrilling,” I exclaimed in my review of the 2016 Off Broadway production of Anais Mitchell’s soulful, sung-through musical derived from two Greek myths — Orpheus and Eurydice, and King Hades and his wife, Persephone. “Hadestown is a hell of a musical,” I proclaimed when it opened on Broadway three years later. It went on to win the Tony Award for best new musical and the Grammy for best musical theater album, before it was shut down with the rest of Broadway in March,2020.
In honor of its reopening tonight, I repost part of my Broadway review (in which I spent more time than I should have comparing it to the Off-Broadway production) and follow up with some videos of musical numbers from the show.
Unlike the theater in the Off-Broadway production, Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater has not been completely redesigned; the show plays out on a conventional proscenium stage, Rachel Hauck’s set more concretely evoking a jazz club in New Orleans (the band members in porkpie hats are visible on stage throughout.) There are now all sorts of stage effects, from stage smoke to a working steam whistle to a few surprise alterations of the set that are obviously the fruit of a bigger Broadway budget.
What made Hadestown most thrilling remains – the delightful score, which mixes sweet and sexy folk, rocking jazz, and exquisite blues. And there are some improvements. There is now a sharper clarity to the tale, in large part because of the expansion of the role of Hermes as narrator, now performed to perfection by the great André De Shields. (There is also a note in the program explaining, “Who’s Who in Greek Mythology,” which is helpful in a show that still focuses more on atmosphere than plot.)
De Shields commands the stage from the get-go. The show begins in complete silence as the rest of the cast watches Hermes, in his elegant, grey silk suit, slide across the stage, pause, and open a button to show a loud and splendid vest, before trombone player Briane Drye lets out a blast from jazz heaven and De Shields launches into the get-down “Road to Hell.” In the song, Hermes introduces the three Fates, the five members of the “Workers Chorus,” and Orpheus, and announces we’re about to witness a love story.
Reeve Carney’s Orpheus plays country bumpkin to Eva Noblezada’s tough street chick Eurydice. When they first meet, Orpheus blurts out “Come Home With Me” (the name of the song) and sings he wants to marry her.
“Who are you?” Eurydice talks back.
“Your name is like a melody,” Orpheus sings
“A singer? Is that what you are?”
“I also play the lyre.”
“Ooh, a liar, and a player too! I’ve met too many men like you.”
This is both performers’ sophomore effort on Broadway, each of them making splashy debuts — Carney as the lead in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Noblezada in Miss Saigon. Hers is the more impressive transformation….
They do wind up marrying, of course. Then Eurydice descends into Hadestown. In the standard versions of the myth, it’s because she died. In this retelling, she makes a deal with the devil in order to fill her hungry stomach.
Hadestown wouldn’t be quite as splendid if it were not for the parallel (and cleverly intersecting) love story of Hades and Persephone – in large measure because of the performers who portray them, Patrick Page and Amber Gray. They are the two who’ve been with the show since Off-Broadway, and no wonder: They are beyond extraordinary. Page in his deep, deep voice ends Act I with his show-stopping and strikingly relevant “Why We Build The Wall” (which Mitchell wrote for her original concept album, released in 2010, long before Trump’s campaign.):
“Why do we build the wall? My children, my children why do we build the wall?
…We build the wall to keep us free.
How does the wall keep us free?….
…The wall keeps out the enemy
Then Gray opens Act II with her show-stopping down and dirty “Our Lady of the Underground,” delivered like a jazz chanteuse who had too much to drink – who always has too much to drink – at a late-night soiree. She even introduces the members of the band. But Hadestown doesn’t feel like just a concert with benefits. It feels like a full-fledged musical, and it’s devilishly good.
Hadestown is at the Walter Kerr Theater.
Tickets and details
*The principal cast members who are returning include Reeve Carney as Orpheus, André De Shields as Hermes, Amber Gray as Persephone, and Eva Noblezada as Eurydice. Joining the Broadway cast for a limited engagement is Tom Hewitt, who will play the role of Hades until original Broadway cast member Patrick Page, who is in production for a new film, returns on November 2 .
The cast also features Jewelle Blackman, Jessie Shelton, and Mariand Torres as the Fates. The chorus of Workers is played by Anthony Chatmon II, Afra Hines, Timothy Hughes, John Krause, Trent Saunders, and Kim Steele. The cast includes swings Malcolm Armwood, Adam Hyndman, Tara Jackson, Yael “YaYa” Reich, T. Oliver Reid, and Khaila Wilcoxon.