Encore Michigan

Broadway in Detroit: Hadestown takes audiences to hell and back…superbly.

Review November 26, 2021 David Kiley

DETROIT, MI – Hadestown tells a version of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice where Orpheus descends into the underworld to rescue his lover, Eurydice. But the authors of the play do not slavishly adhere to the original story, and that is to their credit. Instead, they adapted it and mixed in some flavors and characters that would undoubtedly have been welcomed by Greek poet Virgil who conceived the story before Christ was born.

Hadestown plays through December 5 at The Fisher Theatre, and then moves to The Wharton Center in East Lansing.

If you are rusty on your Greek mythology, just go into seeing this glorious musical play with the eternal lesson of not looking backward in your head. The lesson is delivered through a not so simple boy-meets-girl story.

This modern and somewhat hyperactive musical that is now on tour, making it’s current stop at The Fisher Theatre, is grounded in several genres of music from pop, to folk to bit of spiritual and jazz, all set in a time and place that puts one in mind of the dark voodoo corridors of New Orleans.

Greek God Hermes actually opens the story introducing the characters and story in “Road To Hell.” Hadestown, written by Anaïs Mitchell and developed for Broadway by Rachel Chavkin, shows the benefits of what was a 16-year journey to the big stage – workshopping, a stop Off-Broadway, to becoming the talk of Broadway and winning multiple Tony Awards. Mitchell has been captivated by the classic Greek story since a child, and the sophisticated treatment that we get to enjoy today shows both the passion of the creator and the benefit of patience to get it right.

Hadestown Tour 9-30-21 166 Hadestown National Tour 9/30/21 Photograph © T Charles Erickson tcharleserickson@photoshelter.com

The magic and success of Hadestown is the modern, lively music and choreography developed to deliver the story. Goddess Persephone (Kimberly Marable), Demeter’s daughter by Zeus, wife of Hades and queen of the underworld, for example, arrives in the upper world and celebrates summertime with (“Livin’ it Up on Top”). Eurydice, the girl in the love story (Morgan Siobahn Green) begins to fall in love with Orpheus (Nichols Barasch) with (“All I’ve Ever Known.”). When Eurydice hears of the relentless labor endured by the factory workers in the story, she is intrigued by the rich praises sung by the Fates as well as the promise of protection that Hadestown, she sings (“Way Down Hadestown”). When the cold weather returns and Eurydice searches for food and firewood, she implores Orpheus to finish his song (“A Gathering Storm”). Persephone serves the workers in a speakeasy she runs behind Hades’s back to (“Our Lady of the Underground”). The song she sings of her regrets as her memories of the world above slowly begin to fade is titled (“Flowers”).

After Eurydice agrees to go to Hadestown, Orpheus, wins over the gods of the underworld with his mournful music, played on stage by the character on an electric guitar. They permit him to get Eurydice back on the condition that he does not look at her until they reach the “upper world.” Orpheus descends to Hades (Kevyn Morrow), and before getting into the clear with his love, he turns to check that Eurydice was following. This is precisely what Orpheus was told not to do, so Eurydice is again banished to the underworld.

In this telling, Eurydice goes to hell in the first place because of the frost and famine that come when Persephone goes to Hades for her annual conjugal visit. Hades, though, becomes enamored with Eurydice, and so a jealous Persephone sells him on the idea of letting Orpheus take her back. Clearly, she does not relish the competition.

The God Hermes, really a Greek mythology guest in the story, as he is not in Virgil’s original telling, is a narrator and played beautifully by Levi Kries. Morrow’s Hades is in some ways more satisfying than Patrick Page’s portrayal on Broadway, with Morrow’s base-baritone and slightly pimpish at times embodiment of the character. Barasch infuses his ginger-haired Orpheus with a high tenor that frequently gets trapped in a range diabolically written by the show’s creative team that borders on falsetto. Ms. Green demonstrates terrific range, from jazzy spirituals to more plaintiff ballads.

A hard working set that puts the orchestra players on stage rather than removed from the action by Rachel Huack features a turntable utilized wonderfully in the choreography, and transitions from the upper world to the lower world pretty seamlessly, with Hadestown imagined as a hive of mine shafts. Hades has a strong signature song here about “Building A Wall,” that I wondered about the playwrights making a political statement until I remembered that it was written long before Trump rallies became a chorus of “Build The Wall.”

The ensemble of “Fates” and workers played by Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne, Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams are incredibly strong and refreshingly visibly diverse culturally and even size and build, reflecting true diversity in the cast.

While we languish in a sea of manufactured musicals meant to take advantage of known characters (“Diana”) or familiar movies (“Tootsie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire) and jukebox shows, it’s gratifying to see a work and story, not to mention great writing, older than Christ come together so impactfully by a team of dogged and inspired creatives who pushed on hundreds of locked doors to get this show done, produced on the big stage and to the point of being a classic in its own right.

Week of 1/17/2022

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