A New York Theatre Guide to... Hadestown!
Here's all you need to know about Broadway's new musical phenomenon...
It’s been a long and winding “Road to Hell” (or Broadway, in this case), but Ladies and Gentlemen, the wait has been worth it! Anaïs Mitchell’s celebrated folk opera Hadestown is the most acclaimed production of the 2018-2019 Broadway season with an astonishing 14 Tony Award nominations, including “Best Musical”. Born in Mitchell’s home state of Vermont in 2006 as a kind of “D.I.Y. theatre project” which spawned the 2010 concept album, it wasn’t until Rachel Chavkin, the Tony-nominated director behind Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, came on board to co-develop the project that the musical began to shape itself into its current extraordinary form. Following its Off-Broadway premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, its Canadian premiere at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre in 2017, and its London premiere at the National Theatre in 2018, Hadestown finally put down roots at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre on March 22, 2019, officially opening to gushing reviews on April 17.
What’s it all about?
Hadestown is an innovative retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, inspired by a post-apocalyptic New Orleans French Quarter-style setting. Infused with Blues, Jazz, Dixieland and modern American folk music, the show begins with Hermes, whose task it is to guide us through the tragic tale of these poor young lovers. After true love blossoms despite the bleak poverty of their circumstances, Eurydice is seduced by Hades to work in his underground factory (aka Hadestown) that would offer ‘comfort and stability’. On discovering her cruel fate, Orpheus decides to journey to this industrial underworld to face Hades and retrieve his soulmate. The only problem is that Eurydice has signed a contract and now belongs to Hades. However, Persephone, who spends part of the year above ground issuing in the summer and the other part of the year as Hades’ lover and Lady of the Underground, is moved by Orpheus and Eurydice’s love for one another and persuades Hades to let Eurydice leave. Faced with the dilemma of either making a martyr of her or risking his own authoritarian control over Hadestown, Hades agrees to let Eurydice go… but on one condition. Orpheus must lead the way above ground and Eurydice must follow behind. But if Orpheus gives in to doubt and insecurity and looks behind at any point to see if she still follows, then she will belong to Hades and remain in Hadestown forever…
Who’s starring in it?
Starring as Hades and Persephone in the original Broadway company are Patrick Page and Amber Gray, who have played their respective roles ever since the 2016 world premiere at New York Theatre Workshop. Ms. Gray’s Broadway breakthrough came (also thanks to director Rachel Chavkin) with her performance as Hélène in The Great Comet of 1812, whilst Mr. Page is a true Broadway veteran with over a dozen Broadway credits to his résumé. Our young protagonists are brought to life by Reeve Carney as Orpheus, who you may know as Dorian Gray on the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” or from his well-documented turn as Peter Parker in Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, and Eva Noblezada, who shot to fame as Kim in the 2017 Broadway revival of Miss Saigon, as Eurydice. Finally, adding some eccentric class as Hermes is Broadway legend André De Shields, who also boasts over a dozen Broadway credits. A testament to this diverse and phenomenally talented cast, Page, Gray, Noblezada and De Shields are all currently nominated for Tony Awards for their respective, captivating performances.
What’s special about this production?
Where to begin! We’re not sure Broadway has ever seen anything quite like Hadestown. Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell’s production is as genre-defying as it is emotionally charged. The New Orleans-style band is constantly present on stage, frequently part of the action and members are even introduced individually by Persephone during her “Our Lady of the Underground” number, rather like a traditional concert. Then, just to remind us of the show’s ingenious theatricality, there’s a breath-taking coup-de-théâtre involving Rachel Hauk’s magnificent set design, atmospheric lighting effects galore (courtesy of Bradley King) and imaginative choreography by David Neumann that encompasses everything from the rigid, harshness of the soulless factory workers of Hadestown to the dreamy, romantic sequence of Orpheus and Eurydice's dance and all that's in between. There’s also a scarily prophetic aspect to the musical with its “Why We Build the Wall” number, which mirrors President Trump’s current separatist agenda, even though the song predates it by a number of years. A special mention also goes to the utilization of The Fates, the voices in the heads of both gods and men, brilliantly portrayed in the original Broadway company by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad. This theatrical device is as entertaining as it is effective, thanks to these marvellous young women. It certainly isn’t every season that Broadway is graced with something as original and as inspired as this production of Hadestown and it just goes to prove that when you take your time and you nurture and enrich a project over many years, the result is that much more satisfying when you finally get to experience it in all its seasoned glory.
Who would we recommend it to?
We would honestly recommend Hadestown to everyone who has a pulse! Whether you’re a theatre aficionado or not, whether you’re at all familiar with Greek mythology, it simply doesn’t matter. Hadestown is spellbinding for any age group and its score is as infectious as they come. The show already has a dedicated fan base that we predict will only continue to grow and grow. Hadestown, we raise our cup to you!
Hadestown Tickets are available now.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)