Retelling Greek myths is not a new idea, and has been done countless times for various audiences (Disney, Percy Jackson, I’m looking at you here). But taking possibly one of the saddest, most preventable (I use this term loosely) Greek myths and turning it into a musical? You have my attention.
With music, book, and lyrics from Anaïs Mitchell, “Hadestown” tells a version of the ancient Greek myth “Orpheus and Eurydice,” as Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) ventures down to the Underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) from the Land of the Dead. However, unlike the original myth, “Hadestown” is enriched by a deeper delve into the myth of Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable). Hades’ rule as Lord of the Underworld and Persephone’s trips back to the land of the living become critical sticking points in Mitchell’s retelling of this ancient tale.
Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the musical opens with “Road to Hell,” an upbeat, bluesy number led by Olympian god Hermes (Tony Award winner Levi Kreis) as he introduces each character. From the moment he opens his mouth, Kreis steals the show. With his shimmery suit and smooth-as-caramel voice, Kreis has more swagger than you or I will ever have as he gives each character their moment in the spotlight.
Act I is a flurry of musical numbers, and the little bit of dialogue that does exist is more like on-tempo rhyming couplets than actual speech. As we begin to see the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus develop, Green and Barasch prove their vocal chops, particularly in their number “All I’ve Ever Known.” This emotionally charged duet is much slower and sensual than the rest of the show, and is the first time Eurydice’s walls begin to come down.
Green absolutely nails her performance as the music takes on a life of its own, but it is not until the end of Act I that Barasch gets the vocal moment he deserves. Compared to the breathy (yet very well supported and highly impressive) falsetto notes he maintains through much of the first half, his number “Wait For Me” is full of the rich, sexy, musical-theater notes we’ve come to expect from our theatrical leading men.
Marable proves herself to be her own force of nature (quite literally in this case, as Persephone is the goddess of springtime) during her number “Livin’ It Up On Top.” Full of fast-paced excitement and a message of female empowerment, her energy is infectious as a jazzy dance number ensues with the impeccably synced Worker’s Chorus (Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, and Jamari Johnson Williams).
In comparison to this sunny, carefree world above, the Underworld is darker, edgier, and more industrialized than it’s cheery counterpart. It is here that there is a shift both on and offstage, as the toe-tapping beat and bright colors that dominate the first half of the show are replaced by clouds of smoke, grungy overalls, and heavy rock, thanks to scenic, costume, lighting, and co-sound designers Rachel Hauck, Michael Krass, Bradley King, and Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, respectively. Audiences finally get to see more of Hades, and Morrow’s dominating presence and deep voice do not disappoint as he exudes confidence and sexual tension in his duet “How Long?” with Marable.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Greek myth without the Three Fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne). Although their entire job is to cause a ruckus and strut around the stage like a posse of mean girls in a 2000s high school movie, their harmonies alone are worth the price of admission.
While rooted in myth, “Hadestown” does touch on elements of the real world. Audiences are forced to come face to face with issues that impact much of society today, including poverty, hunger, division of class, and power versus morality. Even COVID-19 has a place in this show, as the incredibly, mind-bogglingly talented onstage musicians still wore masks throughout the production.
“Hadestown” runs at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts through October 31, 2021. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission. Tickets can be purchased here.
See additional production photos in the gallery below. All photo credit to T Charles Erickson.