‘Hadestown’ reviewed: A local’s take

‘Hadestown:’ Music, Lyrics & Book by Anaïs Mitchell
Very rarely do you witness a work of art or a performance so fresh, so vital, so extraordinary that you think, “Wow, this might be just be a game changer.”  But that’s exactly what I thought as I exited a Broadway theatre a couple weeks ago after seeing Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown,” which was still in previews. (Click here to read our interview with Mitchell about the show.)
“Hadestown,” has at its core the story of Orpheus who journeys to the underworld to rescue his fiancée Eurydice, whose hunger has led her to make a pact with the devil. That story of young love is blended with the mature and complex love story of Hades, ruler of the Underworld, and Persephone, who spends half the year with Hades and half year on the surface of the Earth, causing the seasons to happen.
You might have seen an earlier iteration of this long-in-development production (it started as community theatre in 2007) and not been overwhelmed.  Or perhaps you are scared off by the idea of a “folk opera.” Or maybe you are uninspired by Greek mythology. I am offering this review to say that I have seen this work of art evolve into a masterpiece of theater. 
You can call it an opera because there is little in the way of spoken dialogue, but the music is grounded in the folk tradition with nods towards dustbowl ballads, blue-collar rock, honky Southern soul, gospel and New Orleans jazz, with a trombone that underscores that funky sound. Michael Chorney, of Lincoln, was responsible for the orchestration, along with Todd Sickafoose, and their contributions are evident, with a band consisting of the trombone, drums, keyboard, bass, cello, violin and guitar remaining on stage.
THE WORKERS CHORUS sings and stomps on stage in “Hadestown” written by New Haven native Anaïs Mitchell, and now playing on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Matthew Murphy
The leads are all played by outstanding award-winning performers.  Patrick Page as Hades doesn’t so much sing as growl; his menace as an exploiter of people and resources is palpable. Hermes, the Greek messenger of the gods and narrator is played brilliantly by André De Shields, who brings a sense of mischief to the role. In this iteration of the play, his role is expanded and he provides much needed context for those unfamiliar with the Greek backstory. Amber Gray as Persephone is a raucous yet tragic figure, making you aware of both her love of Hades and her despair over the cost of that relationship.  Eva Noblezada as Eurydice is world-weary yet innocent, her powerful voice embues the story with tragedy. The biggest surprise in this production is how much the role of Orpheus, played by Reeve Carney, has been strengthened. In earlier productions, his innocent tenor voice appeared as weakness and his appeal to Eurydice was somewhat incomprehensible. Now the song he is composing to save the world echoes in my mind daily.
As impressive as the cast is, as brilliant as the staging is, in the end it is Mitchell’s music — both tunes and lyrics — that resonates so strongly. With characters embedded in Greek mythology, Mitchell manages to touch on out-of-control capitalism, deadly climate change, and fear of immigrants.  Act I ends with a spine-tingling song composed more than 10 years ago that could have been written this year it is so relevant. Hades asks, “Why do we build a wall, my children, my children?”  and the workers, who function as a Greek chorus answer, “Because we have and they have not/ Because they want what we have got/ The enemy is poverty/And the wall keeps out the enemy/And we build the wall to keep us free/ That’s why we build the wall/We build the wall to keep us free.”
EVA NOBLEZADA STARS as Eurydice in “Hadestown,”, which opened on Broadway April 17 in New York City. Anaïs Mitchell of New Haven wrote the play over a decade ago with the help of Michael Chorney of Lincoln. They’re both still involved with the show every night on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy
And, when Eurydice cries out to her lover, “Orpheus, I’m hungry.” Hades is there with an offer that mocks Orpheus’s promises: “Hey little songbird, let me guess/He’s some kind of poet, and he’s penniless/Give him your hand/He’ll give you his hand/to mouth/He’ll write you a poem when the power’s out.”
The tale, as Greek tragedies are wont, doesn’t end well.  As Hermes also says, “It’s an old tale from way back when.” But for the cast the night I saw the show, who were besieged by fans and flowers at the backstage door, as well as for Mitchell, it seems like it was a new beginning.  I advise getting a ticket soon, before the price and availability goes out of reach, as with “Hamilton,” that other show that joined a different musical style of brilliant lyrics.
Ripton-based food writer and author of many cookbooks Andrea Chesman has followed both Anaïs Mitchell’s and Michael Chorney’s careers for a long time.

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