Theater Review: HADESTOWN (North American Tour)

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by Marc Wheeler on April 30, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


As soon as the plunger-muted trombone began to wail, and ache, and wail again; as trickled sweat watered ivories being tickled on an upright piano; as the hmmm’s of the chorus overlayed the chugga-chug sounds in this gin-soaked speakeasy where the train to hell was roarin’, I knew Hadestown was touched by muses surely fated to bless us all. Receiver of countless accolades, including 14 Tony nominations – 8 of which it won, including Best Musical and Best Original Score in 2019 – Hadestown is a soulful, innovative musical with book, music, and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell. Intertwining the ancient Greek myths of immortal lovers Orpheus & Eurydice and Hades & Persephone, it brings fresh life to the oldest of tales and a welcome spring to Los Angeles. With its North American tour now in bloom at the Ahmanson Theatre, Hadestown is a theatrical rarity you won’t want to miss.

Levi Kreis, Morgan Siobhan Green, Nicholas Barasch

If all artists steal, Anaïs Mitchell steals well. While watching Hadestown, I couldn’t help but think of Mimi and Roger in Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent. Or the love story between Christian and Satine in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!. Of course, Rent is based on Puccini’s opera, La Bòheme. And even Luhrmann said one of his inspirations for Moulin Rouge! was the Greek myth of Orpheus & Eurydice, while others note similarities between it and Verdi’s La Traviata. Everyone’s borrowing from everyone, and putting their own unique spin on whatever art they’re creating. Hadestown’s aesthetic seems to be set in the Prohibition era, but only kind of. There’s a timelessness to it. Even the music ranges from the stank of N’awlins honkey-tonk jazz to more intimate and confessional stylings of “singer-songwriter” music you’d hear in an indie coffeeshop or Once The Musical.

Morgan Siobhan Green, Nicholas Barasch & The Fates

If all this sounds hopelessly romantic and tragically wonderful, you’re right. Why, we even have a penniless poet falling for a poor runaway who must choose between love and survival. It’s the stuff of which great stories are made. That’s why we keep re-telling them. It doesn’t hurt, however, having a touring cast as exquisite as this one telling this particular story. From the show’s ensemble to its leading players, there’s not a weak link in the bunch.

Levi Kreis and company

As the musical’s narrator, master of ceremonies, and messenger of the gods, Hermes, Levi Kreis is nothing short of stunning. Known for his soulful twang that won him a Best Featured Actor Tony Award for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the hit Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet, Kreis commands the stage. He starts the show with a fine purr of a train engine and keeps it on its tracks until its final curtain.

(L-R Clockwise) Kevyn Morrow, Kimberly Marable, Nicholas Brasch, Levi Kreis, Morgan Siobhan Green

As Orpheus, the tale’s earthbound loverboy and Hermes’ ward, Nicholas Barasch brings wide-eyed innocence to the penniless poet whose gift to the world is his song. (Sound familiar?) Songwriter Mitchell gives this red-headed, milky-skinned songbird no easy task. Orpheus is the son of the muse of poetry, after all, so his melodies must bear rich fruit. While Barasch’s alternations between chest and head voice in this vocally demanding track aren’t always seamless or effortless, there’s a supernal quality to his timber that I found delightful. As Eurydice, the object of Orpheus’s affection, Morgan Siobhan Green plays the runaway tree spirit with a hard outer edge that comes from one too many hard knocks. Through her chance meeting with Orpheus, some of her walls begin to come down, exposing an inner glow of vulnerability that’s as warm and tender as her ethereal voice. Like Orpheus, she is poor and at the whims of the Fates’ winds. As soon as she opens herself up to love, the necessity of survival rears its ugly head.

Shea Renne, Bex Odorisio and Belén Moyano

Offering her respite is Hades, ruler of the Underworld, played with a booming, gravelly voice by Kevyn Morrow. He’s a slick one, all right. He only allows his lover, Persephone, six months of the year up on earth. As this goddess of the seasons, Kimberly Marable is the life of the party. Making sure everyone’s cup is full, she celebrates each sunny day as if it’s her last, for she knows her fate well. Throughout the tale loom the Fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne), three silky-voiced goddesses who, when they aren’t singing in divine harmony, determine the destinies of mortals. Props to music supervisor Liam Robinson who arranged their vocals so tightly. (Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose orchestrated.)

Kevyn Morrow, Nicholas Barasch and Kimberly Marable

Hadestown has been on quite the journey since it premiered in Barre, Vermont in 2006. After a few productions, Ms. Mitchell, unsure of what exactly to do with the work, turned it into a concept album in 2010. Two years later, she had a fateful encounter with Rachel Chavkin who helped her develop the story. Chavkin also became the director, turning the reworked iteration into the wildly successful Broadway musical it’s now become.

Nicholas Barasch and Company

As powerful as ocean waves, David Neumann’s gorgeous choreography is mesmerizing. Whether he sways the Greek players like birds in flight or as cogs in the Underworld’s machine, his talent is evident. Similarly, Rachel Hauck’s scenic design, aided by the striking design of Bradley King’s lighting, is commendable. From a lively gin joint to the depths of hell, her worlds are stark and clear. Michael Krass’s costumes, circa 1920s, are modernly stylized, giving them a universality to match that of the story.

Kevyn Morrow

Aided by sound designers Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, the music is instantly memorable. By the second or third song, I was already itching to go back and hear it all again. Some of Mitchell’s melodies are so rapturous that they left me swooning into a perfect puddle by their end. Mitchell makes great use of rhyme, refrains, and other such cleverness to hook us. For instance, when Orpheus sings in “Come Home with Me” that “spring will come again,” Eurydice repeats, “come again?” Then he repeats, “Spring will come,” and she rhymes “again” with “when? I haven’t seen a spring or fall, since … I can’t recall.” The rhythmic back-and-forth not only makes for great flirtation, it dances in our ears.

The Company of HADESTOWN

Similarly, Mitchell incorporates “word painting” in her chain gang-like anthem, “Why We Build the Wall.” Also known as “tone/text painting,” this musical technique reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics (or story elements) in the music itself. Set in the Underworld, “Why We Build the Wall” is a call-and-response between Hades and the Workers Chorus. Hades asks them a series of questions about why building walls is necessary. The workers respond, each time layering their current answer on top of previous ones. Suddenly, a song about building walls essentially “builds a wall” of responses that are stacked like bricks on top of each other. (The Workers Chorus features Lindsey HailesChibueze IhuomaWill MannSydney Parra, Eddie Noel Rodríguez and Jamari Johnson Williams.)

The Company of HADESTOWN

And yet, tearing down walls of separation is what makes theater so powerful. While many shows these days make difference, or diversity, their sole point – and often more important than the quality of the art itself – Hadestown recognizes that all of us, regardless of superficial traits, experience the same humanity. The cast is beautifully diverse, but the show, refreshingly, feels no need to comment on any of it. It doesn’t divide us by our differences, but unites us in our commonalities. The musical explores themes of love, truth, and beauty, as well as tragedy, loss, and sacrifice. Why, who amongst us can’t relate to any of that?

Kimberly Marable and Company

In closing, I must say: it’s not often that a musical comes along that hits us at our core. Hadestown has done that for me. Then again, I’m a sucker for poets and artists and dreamers and lovers finding something – or someone – to cling to in this cold, wonderful world. Whereas Hadestown was clearly inspired, so it now, too, can serve as inspiration for others. That’s what I love about such masterworks: not only are they moving experiences in their own right, they have the potential to ignite passion and creativity in others, even across the ages. On that note, I urge you (if you the gods so allow) to snag a ticket. Who knows, you might just see me, blown in on a bohemian wind, back in its audience again. Either way, to great art done well: I heartily raise my cup!

The Company of HADESTOWN

photos by T Charles Erickson

Morgan Siobhan Green and Nicholas Barasch in the HADESTOWN North American Tour

reviewed at Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center on April 27, 2022
for tickets visit Center Theatre Group | plays in L.A. through May 29, 2022
tour continues, see Hadestown for dates and cities

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