Hadestown, the many-Tony-award-winning musical, which retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (and Hades and Persephone) in a modern-day New Orleans-like setting (with some steampunk flourishes), has arrived in LA, at the Ahmanson through May 29, 2022 (and then again at the Segerstrom Center for The Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, August 9 to 21).
Hadestown has much to recommend it, and if the crowd the night I attended is any indicator, it has a great appeal to a young and diverse audience.
The musical was written by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell (only the fourth time in Broadway history that a woman has been the solo author of a musical), and was developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, with distinctive scenic design by Rachel Hauck.
The road to production was long with many twists and turns. An early version was performed in Vergennes, Vermont in 2006. In 2010, Mitchell released a Hadestown CD as a concept album and performed the songs at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. Sitting in the audition that night was Dale Franzen, the founding artistic director of the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. She would become the first producer to sign on to developing the album into a stage musical – a journey that would take some nine more years and involve the staging of various versions on Off-Broadway, in Edmonton, and London before opening on Broadway in 2019, where Hadestown received 14 Tony Nominations and won eight including Best Musical and Best Original Score. So, in a sense, this Los Angeles performance brings the Odyssey of Hadestown full circle.
The bluesy songs of the Hadestown score flow among the characters as part of a sung narrative. The cast is diverse and BIPOC fill the majority of roles among the cast and the on-stage band. Kimberly Marable is outstanding as Persephone lighting up the stage in every scene she is in; Keith Morrow is a solid and engaging Hades. Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice and Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus incarnate the hopelessly in love youths with winning charm; and Levi Kreiss plays the mercurial Hermes in a manner that calls to mind Joel Grey in Cabaret.
As Eurydice falls under the command of Hades, the exploiter of souls, the musical also threads a critique of capitalism, and in response, a call to social activism. We see the harsh hell like conditions of industrialized manual labor, working in a mine or shoveling coal into a furnace.
Hadestown manages to imbue the major characters with upbeat songs, with optimism and hope, and the power of love to change and even redeem us. The sets, staging, and music are so compelling that one follows Orpheus to hell and back, wishing for an outcome different than the original myth allows. We are still shocked when the inevitable occurs (an audience member sitting behind me actually gasped).
Still, despite the strength of the production and the charm of the cast, I wish I enjoyed Hadestown more. The production is more a song cycle than a play, more Kurt Weill Three Penny Opera than Oklahoma-type musical theater, the lyric-filled songs are not always intelligible and as they are telling the story sometimes the plot disappears behind the performances. The first act, which features 16 musical numbers feels too long, and the whole evening at two hours and a half (including intermission) also felt long. Finally, the excellent trombone player in the band aside, the music was attempting to be New Orleans-like but too often defaulted into singer-songwriter mode.
Nonetheless, at the performance I attended, the audience was boisterously enthusiastic about the show. And there is no denying how great it feels to be watching a live musical theater performance with a cheering audience. So, whether you go because of the play, or the experience, seeing Hadestown is a reason to cheer.