Review: “Hadestown” Redefines Mythos at the New York Theatre Workshop

Review: “Hadestown” Redefines Mythos at the New York Theatre Workshop

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

With some surprise – and a modicum of disbelief – I overheard the two Millennials settling in behind me at the performance of “Hadestown” I attended at the New York Theatre Workshop sharing that they “had no idea” what the show they were there to see was about. Is it possible to reach ones 20s and 30s and not know the Orpheus and Eurydice myth? As the lights came back up following the performance, my despair transformed to hope: this remarkable and rich retelling of that myth will assuredly ignite interest in the Orpheus-Eurydice story as compellingly as “Hamilton” has renewed interest in America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown” is a faithful retelling of this epic myth with a deep connection to the present and the plight of the 99 percent. Orpheus’ journey to rescue Eurydice from Hades and death, Persephone’s intervention on their behalf, and the gripping journey of the pair to the very Gates of Hell has never been more clear or more compelling.

Developed with the New York Theatre Workshop and Rachel Chavkin after the 2010 release of Anaïs Mitchell’s album of the same name, “Hadestown” retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice while counterpointing the tale with the reality of current political-social economics and challenges. Orpheus sings, “What we have we have to share.” Hades, on the other hand prefers building walls to keep the have nots away from those who have. Sound familiar?

The wonderful Chris Sullivan portrays Charon’s sidekick Hermes the psychopomp who narrates “Hadestown” and ushers the dead – and those who wish to rescue the dead – into and on occasion out of Hades on the train that “comes a-rollin’ clicketly clack” (not across the River Styx on a boat). His enchanting vocals reverberate through Hermes’ “Road to Hell,” “All I’ve Ever Known,” Way Down Hadestown,” and “Wait for Me.” Nabiyah Be portrays the deceased Eurydice who lands in Hades leaving her husband Orpheus pining for her above. Ms. Be’s remarkable vocal instrument brings a chilling authenticity to Ms. Mitchell’s “Wedding Song,” “All I’ve Ever Known,” “Chant I and II,” “Gone, I’m Gone,” “Flowers,” “Promises,” and “Wait for Me.” 

Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

Patrick Page (Hades) and Amber Gray (Persephone) handily bring the King and Queen of Hadestown to electrifying heights with remarkable performances and stunning vocals. Mr. Page’s range is astonishing and his low notes must be heard to be believed. Ms. Gray has a brilliant upper range that rings with the well-controlled interpretations of her songs. Standing out are their duets “Chant I” and “How Long;” Hades’ “Hey, Little Songbird,” “Why Build the Wall,” “Chant II,” and “His Kiss the Riot;” and Persephone’s “Livin’ It Up on Top,” “Way Down Hadestown,” “Chant I and II,” Our Lady of the Underground” (Entr’acte), “How Long,” and “I Raise My Cup to Him.”

The Fates Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Shaina Taub serve as a Greek Chorus as well as a stealthy superego. They weave through the action sometimes with a stark intrusion, sometimes with a gentle nudge. Their voices blend beautifully in their songs: “Any Way the Wind Blows,” When the Chips Are Down,” “Way Down Hadestown II,” Nothing Changes,” “Word to the Wise,” and the suspenseful “Doubt Comes In.”

Only the charming Damon Daunno seems to struggle with his role. His important Orpheus seems unable to match the richness and depth of the other performances. Perhaps it was the performance this critic attended but his voice seems surprisingly unsteady and occasionally pitchy. He reaches hard to be a fitting interloper in Hades and is sincere in his performance. His strong musical numbers include “Wedding Song” (with Ms. Be), “Epic I,” and “Wait for Me.”

Rachel Hauck’s set design, along with Bradley King’s lighting and Robert Kaplowitz’ sound, transform the New York Theatre Workshop’s space into a haunting Hades that beckons to the faint of heart and the weak of spirit.  Ms. Mitchell’s scintillating “Hadestown” quickens the deadliness of our current political maelstrom and the social ennui it so weakly attempts to address. Like humankind’s attempts to “get it right,” “Hadestown” is “the tale of a love that never dies.” “It’s a sad song/It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy/It’s a sad song/But we sing it anyway” croons Hermes. One wonders how many more times we will “lift our cup” to Orpheus before we “see the world the way it could be in spite of the way it is.”

HADESTOWN

The cast of “Hadestown” features Nabiyah Be as Eurydice, Damon Daunno Orpheus, Lulu Fallas a Fate, Amber Gray as Persephone, Patrick Page as Hades, Jessie Shelton as a Fate, Chris Sullivan as Hermes, and Shaina Taub as a Fate.
 
The production features scenery by Rachel Hauck; costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by Jennifer Tipton; sound by Rob Kaplowitz; properites by Noah Mease; choreography by David Neumann; dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia; music direction by Liam Robinson; arrangements and orchestrations by Michael Chorney; and co-arrangements and orchestrations and music supervision by Todd Sickafoose. “Hadestown” is co-conceived by Ben t. Matchstick. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information on “Hadestown,” including performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.nytw.org/show/hadestown/. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

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