'Hadestown' review: The highway to hell comes alive in breathtaking musical
Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit
The highway to hell has never been paved with good intentions, but Anaïs Mitchell’s dizzying and otherworldly Tony award winning smash “Hadestown,” based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, catapults audiences into the deep underworld trenches and literally asks them not to look back. Having gone through various revisions and productions since its inception almost a decade ago, “Hadestown” seems timed for our collective moment of emerging from the ashes, singing an “old song” that speaks volumes to our souls even if the inevitable outcome can’t be avoided. An intoxicating merry-go-round of emotions punctuated with tension and rock-solid staging, this musical blends every genre from jazz, folk, pop, and Dixieland amid a New Orleans inspired landscape, making an old, wry story feel new again.
Under the direction of Racheal Chavkin (who’s 2016 “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” broke new ground), “Hadestown” might be simple on the surface-boy meets girl, boy professes his love for girl, boy hurls himself into the land of the dead to try and save girl-but as our spiffy emcee of the evening, the messenger god Hermes (while nobody can match the brava of original cast member André De Shields, fellow Tony award winner Levi Kries certainly makes the role his own and those vocals? Whew!) repeatedly tells us this won’t have a happy ending, he’s still going to sing the song, because it’s worth telling.
That of Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) and Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), two lovers stuck in an endless loop, he with a soothing high tenor working on crafting the perfect song (let the Roger in “Rent” comparisons flow) and she determining what life above is worth. Understanding hope and aspirations can’t pay the bills, Eurydice-overshadowed by the three fates (physically manifested by the electric trio of Belen Moyano, Bex Odoriso, Shea Renne whose lavish jazz harmonies boasts a dynamic range) nagging and pushing her along-sells her soul to Hades (Kevyn Morrow), a ruthless overload on a power trip after his lover, the trophy wife Persephone (Kimberly Marable - amazing) ditched him for greener, warmer pastures.
Rachel Huack’s incredible scenic work (complete with three turntables maneuvering the cast in several outstanding sequences) envisions a hell like an abandoned coal mine, with unlimited tunnels and terrains Orpheus must traverse in his quest to save Eurydice after she’s coerced into an unbreakable contract. (The on-stage transformation from the world above to the one below, complemented by Bradley King’s occasionally blinding lighting design, is subtle but effective). Once in the underworld, “Hadestown'' becomes a different type of immersive experience. The small company tackle a variety of characters though they mainly inhabit a group of Hades’ loyal subjects given the bare minimum to survive. The underworld overlord sings to them about how “the enemy is poverty” and “building a wall” (mind you, this song was conceived before it became a political rallying cry) with Morrow bringing a suave Tony Todd in “Candyman” level of energy. The type of rarefied charm conjured when a performer is firing on all cylinders. He doesn’t disappoint.
Neither does the rest of the cast, especially Barasch and Green as both are given the unenviable position of shouldering the musical’s toughest melodies and themes. The ending hits like a sack of bricks, a startling dose of reality after getting swept-up in the atmospheric euphoria of all “Hadestown” offers. Including an illustrious orchestra that lives on stage and is given a thunderous introduction at the start of Act 2 (with hardly a moment to breathe during this mostly sung through production). Not that anyone who was already a fan of “Hadestown” needed convincing the show they’ve been listening to on repeat is just as incredible as they’d imagine, but the human scale and larger-than-life mythos of witnessing the live production is an emotional roller-coaster.
Go to hell. You’ll thank me later.
HADESTOWN continues its run at The Fisher Theater in Detroit through Dec 5th. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or through Ticketmaster.