As humans, so often we are questioned with “What will we create?” but not often enough do we ask “Why do we create?” or “What do we expect to accomplish?” In the musical “Hadestown,” the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice becomes intertwined with the underworld king Hades and his wife Persephone in a story about being able to change the world we live in through song. Based on a concept album by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, the show combines folk, blues and jazz music in an eclectic score set in a post-apocalyptic world between the rust belt and New Orleans. Winner of eight Tony Awards, the show has become a staple of Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. “Hadestown” comes to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center from December 6-11 with tickets available here.
The Greek god Hermes narrates the show with a commanding presence, not even moving a muscle until the audience is entirely silent. Played by Nathan Lee Graham, the actor brings a refined flamboyance as a mentor to the young Orpheus. Graham’s previous musical roles in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and film roles in the “Zoolander” franchise have seen the actor bringing a playful, larger than life approach a la Billy Porter. Leading the show as Orpheus, Chibueze Ihuoma portrays the son of a muse as a wandering dreamer armed with only a song in his heart against the cruel, cold steel of Hadestown who sees how the world could be, in spite of the way that it is. Opposite Ihuoma is Hannah Whitley as the fated love interest, Eurydice who only knows a life of starving in the cold. Whitley plays the hungry young girl with a sassy, bold tone in direct contrast to Ihuoma’s more subdued Orpheus. The antagonist, Hades is a titan of industry, performed by Matthew Patrick Quinn whose shady dealings take Eurydice away from the land of the living. Quinn’s bari-tenor vocal range evokes the daunting energy of Terrence Mann in the original cast of “Les Miserables.”
As his once-loving wife Persephone, Lindsey Hailes takes over from an understudy for Lana Gordon, to the full-time role as the lady of the underground. Hailes’ sensual voice along with a physically demanding order as Persephone is a feat to witness from her introduction in “Livin’ It Up On Top” all the way to the somber finale of “We Raise Our Cups.” The three fates are performed by Dominique Kempf, Belén Moyano and Nyla Watson. With the roles originally developed by folk trio The Haden Triplets, the fates both taunt and represent internal turmoil of the many paths the characters could take while playing violin, percussion, and accordion respectively. In this blurring of lines between actor and musician, the fates ultimately reinforce their control within the world of “Hadestown,” setting the score of the show.
Notable for her work with the show “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” director Rachel Chavkin sets the show in an ambiguous space in time and geography, but taking references from Jazz clubs and steampunk-esque aesthetics to create “Hadestown.” At nearly two and a half hours, the sung-through show is performed with a small septet on-stage (and the drummer, Anthony Ty Johnson backstage due to the size constraints of the touring house stages.) Trombone player Emily Fredrickson absolutely steals the show with both incredible riffs, that as a former trombonist are absolutely delightfully sinful, and at times performing center-stage with the cast of actors.
The story of “Hadestown” tackles the violent way corporate greed stifles life and love. With Persephone gone more and more, the seasons change in drastic shifts that force the characters into making brash decisions, as a metaphor for climate change. Orpheus is forced to work on his “Epic” under distress of a gathering storm. Eurydice joins the workers in Hades as she starves in the land of the living. As Hades spends his time growing his underworld empire, his wife Persephone grows distant from him. The workers of Hadestown lose their names and identities only told to “keep their head low” and to be grateful to have labor to work on. While this show was developed in 2006, the theme of “Why We Build The Wall” in fact, does not relate to any presidential campaign statements, but is about being complicit in your own oppression as a worker.
With dramaturg Ken Cerniglia taking Mitchell’s original concept album and Chavkin’s stellar approach to design/visuals, the writer made many adjustments to the book of “Hadestown.” Transforming what was once a small DIY-theater production around Vermont to a big Broadway show was no easy feat. With each iteration of the show, the script and songs changed lyrics, order, or even were cut entirely to make the story of “Hadestown” stronger. As casts changed, the show has evolved into a living, breathing organism that even in its North American tour iteration has changed with adapting scenery to the myriad of venues “Hadestown” has been performed in. While not a dance-centric show, Assistant Director and Choreographer Katie Rose McLaughlin uses movement with the Workers Chorus to operate as a unit, representing the changing world of gods and men.
“Hadestown” is a brilliant epic that will make you feel like you can change the world. While doubt surrounds the characters and twists of fate are lurking at every corner to knock them off guard, there is still the hope that they can try again. In turn, telling the audience that the world we dream of and the world we live in now are only separated by our own ability and desire to create. “Hadestown” is not only an uplifting tale, it is an active rejection of cynical thinking. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is an old tale from long ago, but it is sung anyway to convey that even though we may know it ends in tragedy, Spring will come again. Then when Spring comes, we can always try again, and that is the hope that drives us all. Hadestown is now playing at the Adrienne Arsht Center from December 6-11 with tickets available here.