Hadestown at Kennedy Center brings us the best of Broadway. It won a total of eight Tonys in 2019, including Best New Musical. Soaring music, explosively beautiful design and top notch performances welcome us back to the world of live theater.
The show is adapted from Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. During the 2018-19 season on Broadway, he won, in addition to the Tonys, four Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Musical. The first stop on the national tour is here in DC.
Rachel Chavkin, who received the Tony for Best Directing in a Musical, was the only woman on Broadway to direct a new musical that year. This is the first time in over ten years (and the fourth time in Broadway history) that a woman, Anaïs Mitchell, has written the music, lyrics and book for a musical.
Based on the myths of Persephone and Orpheus, the tale follows two couples, Persephone and her husband Hades, the billionaire ruler of Hell, and the much younger musician Orpheus and the love of his life, Eurydice.
The music, from the deep melodic tones of “Way Down Hadestown” to the passionate lust of “Wait for Me” steals the show, but there is much more to enjoy. There was Tonys for Best Musical, Best Music and Lyrics (Anaïs Mitchell), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (André de Shields, in a role now played by Kevyn Morrow), Best Design Musical Stage Design (Rachel Hauck), Best Musical Lighting Design (Bradley King), Best Musical Sound Design (Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz), Best Comedy Directing Musical (Rachel Chavkin) and Best Orchestrations (Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose).
Despite the tragic elements of the plot, which is largely based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, at the end there is a sense of hope and rebirth. As anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows, sometimes it seems like going to hell and coming back would be a small price to pay to see them again. Perhaps this is the secret to the longevity of the story.
Our guide is Hermes (Levi Kreis), messenger of the gods, whose brash manners and relentless energy instantly seduce us. He takes Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) under his wing, as he was a friend of Orpheus’ mother, the muse Calliope. (Orpheus’s father is generally considered Apollo.) The setting ranges from a Depression-era New Orleans-style nightclub to the Gates of Hell itself, which appears to be short of fun and long on Social Darwinism.
Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) is a “hungry girl” who struggles to survive. Barasch’s Orpheus, also poor, is a gifted artist whose songs bewitch all who hear them. The two fall in love at the first sight. They are an attractive couple, but both are overwhelmed with dizzying transitions. Eurydice goes from a young girl in love to a member of Hades’ miserable work team, who has no name and must keep his nose on the grindstone. Orpheus goes from the joy of finding Eurydice to his desperate and terrifying journey to save her.
Hades (Kevyn Morrow) turned Hell into a sort of industrial prison. His workers (Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra and Jamari Johnson Williams), who are all splendid, try to keep their heads down and focus on the grim tasks given to them by Hades, a strong boss and rich. without illusions, except perhaps on himself.
In the finale of the first act, “Why we build the wall,“ the inhabitants of hell sing about how they must build a wall to keep the poor away. They have been taught to be afraid and to feel superior to those who are poorer than them.
There are a lot of really delicious sequences. The fabulous Kimberly Marable, of the Broadway cast, has two jaw-dropping numbers, “Livin ‘It Up on Top” with Hermes, Orpheus and the Company, and “Our Lady of the Underground” alone at the top of the act II.
The Fates, Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne, form a formidable singing and dancing team that seems to follow Eurydice de Green everywhere. Kevyn Morrow as Hades tries Eurydice to join him in hell with “Hey, Little Songbird”. Her reunion with Marable’s Persephone is expertly played out, although she seems to forgive him fairly quickly for everything he did with Eurydice.
Four-time Tony nominated Michael Krass brings color and a touch of imagination to the costumes, and David Neumann’s choreography is as fast-paced and entertaining as the show itself. Congratulations are due to Liam Robinson (musical supervision and vocal arrangements); the glorious orchestra, Cody Owen Stine (also musical director), Ko Sugiyama, Jacob Yates, Michiko Egger, Audrey Ochoa, Calvin Jones, Anthony Johnson; Music coordinator David Lai; and playwright Ken Cerniglia, as well as Swings Kimberly Immanuel, Alex Lugo, Eddie Noel Rodríguez and Nathan Salstone.
Chavkin said Eurydice made the choice to go down to hell because the creators didn’t want her to be a victim. His motives are in some ways a bit unclear. But that does not detract from the overall excellence of the production.
Hadestown until October 31, 2021. Don’t miss it! After all, in his Orpheus sonnets (1923), as translated by Stephen Mitchell in Before any separation (1995), the great Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke said,
… .It’s Orpheus once and for all
every time there is a song. He comes and goes.
Isn’t it enough if sometimes he can inhabit
With us a few days more than a rose?
Duration: About 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
To see the Hadestown digital program here.
Kennedy Center’s COVID security plan is here.