If you haven’t brushed up on your Greek mythology lately, you’re excused. But you might recall the parable of the doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone, whom he forced to live with him in hell for half the year and in sunlight for the other half — a seasonal arrangement that strained their indelible love. Hadestown, the eight-time Tony Award winner, borrows from these stories to create a highly original musical of love and loss and the power of dreams.
This colorful, theatrical carnival evokes the likes of Thomas Hart Benton’s paintings of everyday American life, the unfettered dancing of Josephine Baker, the ground-breaking Jazz of Louis Armstrong, and the syncopated rhythms of Basin Street’s Afro-Caribbean diaspora with its syncopated “Strut.” It’s a huge kettle of N’awlins’ roots and shoots plunked down into a parable as old as time immemorial.
While it is a wildly exciting piece of musical theater, it also offers up a huge dose of consciousness-raising. Hades, as King of the Underworld, is as ruthless as the early American coal and oil barons, stripping the Earth of its precious resources and enslaving the miners. Employing his gob-smacking, multiple-octave range, Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus sings of his love for Eurydice and of the deplorable conditions of the workers and the destruction of the Earth. In his own defense, Hades sings of his need for “The Wall” to keep the haves from the have-nots. “The enemy is poverty. We build the wall to keep us free. To keep out poverty.” Sound familiar?
Hadestown is a social and moral construct cleverly tucked into a musical. It has a moral (all great stories do), and a tender love story (two, in fact) cleverly cached in the universal struggle for freedom from oppression and basic human rights. Be careful or you’ll miss it, wooed as you will be by harmonizing harpies (The Fates), the stewpot of Cajun and Creole, the sexy slinky Persephone, Hermes the storytelling dandy, and the dazzling psychedelic lights and colors. As in several modern musicals, the musicians are on stage throughout, affording us a close-up of the shiny glint and sounds of the trombone, the soulful strains of the violin, cello, and double bass, and the honky-tonk and haunting accompaniment of an upright piano. (One of The Fates plays accordion, a component in New Orleans Zydeco music, though oddly it is not mentioned in the program.)
Broadway veteran and adorable redhead Nicholas Barasch (Orpheus) shows off his extraordinary vocal range and guitar-playing talents in a variety of numbers. Most especially soulful is “Wait for Me” sung to Eurydice before she is cast into the Underworld and into the clutches of Hades himself.
Look for Kimberly Marable (Persephone) from the original Broadway cast to keep it sassy and sultry in “Way Down Hadestown” and Levi Kreis (Hermes the Narrator), the Tony Award–winning actor who created the role of Jerry Lee Lewis in Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet, to keep the pace at a fast gallop. Kevyn Morrow is convincing as the villainous Hades while Morgan Siobhan Green (Eurydice) counterpoints with her sweet voice and powerful performance in a show that, given the audience’s response, has legions of fans.
Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne appear as the Fates; and Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams, the Workers Chorus.
Music, Lyrics & Book by Anaïs Mitchell; Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Michael Krass; Lighting Design by Bradley King; Dramaturg, Ken Cerniglia; Music Director, Cody Owen Stine.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
View the Hadestown digital program here.
Kennedy Center’s COVID Safety Plan is here.
Explosively beautiful ‘Hadestown’ gets down at Kennedy Center (column by Sophia Howes)