They say there are only two plots for all the stories of the world:
Sometimes they turn out to be the same story.
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the myth of Persephone and Hades merge in Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant storytelling and songwriting in Hadestown, a new and unlikely Broadway musical carried by her witty lyrics and and often haunting melodies. It is an absolutely sensational show, with Rachel Chavkin’s wild, imaginative direction providing astonishing stagecraft, and a wonderful, riveting cast delivering the songs and story.
Our narrator is the messenger god Hermes (played by Mr. Style himself, André De Sheilds, in a silver suit — his sly, slow, strutting entrance captures us instantly); he will guide us and the characters through this tragic tale.
These are hard times in a place that looks like the French Quarter of New Orleans; music, sometime jazzy, sometimes gospel, sometimes ballads, is provided by an onstage band. The first song, “Road to Hell,” tells of a railroad that leads down into the land of the dead, a realm presided over by the king, Hades (Patrick Page, whose menacing basso profundo is terrifyingly seductive; wait for his line, “Hey, little songbird”).
Eurydice (a charming Eva Noblezada) enters in a tattered coat, cold and hungry. Orpheus (Reeve Carney), poet and demi-god of song, enters and is smitten with love. He is the artist who becomes so focused on finishing his masterpiece that he ignores Eurydice, who is lured into the land of death by her hunger. The metaphors are absolutely accessible and persausive.
The only minor disappointment is Carney’s Orpheus, whose voice should charm the birds from the trees, but lacks the requisite magic; as pale and thin as his singing voice, he is hardly the hero needed for the quest.
Meanwhile, Hades’ wife, Persephone (the utterly amazing Amber Gray), daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the earth, returns aboveground for half the year, to allow spring and summer to provide food and warmth for humanity.
The Three Fates (three gorgeous singers: Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzales-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad) oversee all the events in the mortal realm, while a powerful chorus of the dead toil in misery in King Hades’ factories. Written long before Trump’s election, the show features an uncannily prescient song about building a wall to keep the poor out. Another eerie link to the present, attuned as we are to global warming, is that the weather “up on top” has grown scarily harsher, with hotter summers, colder winters, and fierce storms.
Swayed by Orpheus’ song, Hades agrees to let Eurydice return to earth, on the condition that Orpheus doesn’t turn around to see if she is following behind him. Doubt, that destroyer of happiness, enters, Orpheus turns, and the tragic story ends as it always has. It is the genius of Mitchell and Chavkin that the tragedy is both celebrated and redeemed by one of the most moving and generous curtain calls I have ever seen.
The scenic design by Rachel Hauck, the lighting design by Bradley King, and the costume design by Michael Krass are all as startling and altogether meaningful as they could be, making every theatrical aspect of Hadestown thrilling.