The parable: Hades, God of the Underworld (Patrick Page) fell in love with, abducted, and married Persephone (Amber Gray) whose mother Demeter refused to bless the earth while she was below. A deal was brokered. Six months of the year, causing fall and winter, Persephone lived with her spouse, then for six months, evoking spring and summer, she walked the earth.
Orpheus (Reeve Carney), callow son of Apollo and the muse of epic poetry, Calliope, falls in love at first sight with the here homeless waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) …and she him. Winter comes. (Context is this author’s take.) He’s obsessed with writing and inattentive. She’s cold and starving.
On a whim, Hades lures the beautiful young girl below where she unwittingly signs a contract. “Take it from a no longer young man/If you wanna hold a woman, son/Put a chain of gold around her neck,” he sings later. Orpheus suddenly looks up and is alarmed at Eurydice’s absence. He finds his way to Hell in hopes of rescuing her, but “Doubt Comes In” when least expected.
New to the elegiac chronicle are The Fates, goddesses who influence mortals, a Creole-like, girl group weaving throughout (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad). The three sing, dance and play instruments with brio. And Hermes (Andre de Shields), Messenger to the Gods and conductor of souls to the Underworld, who narrates. Imagine Sportin’ Life (Porgy and Bess) in a sharkskin suit, this time on the home team.
De Shields is a treasure. With well honed elegance and resonant oration, he arrives arch and fatalistic, reminding us, “It’s a sad song, but we sing it anyway.”
Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown is a modern morality tale told through folk, pop, gospel, country, and Dixieland music (it works, honestly) with next to no dialogue. Art opposes raw capitalism (Hell is a foundry, Hades a Simon Legree figure), love comes up short against ego and practicality, sex is traded for creature comfort.
Written over ten years ago, the song “Why We Build the Wall” might be Trump’s anthem. “Why do we build a wall, my children?/We build a wall to keep us free…We will keep out the enemy…Because we have what they have not…” Our startled audience shudders.
The musical made the most of its journey to Broadway. Beginning as a singer/songwriter concept album, with productions at New York Theater Workshop and in the Royal National Theatre, London, it’s emerged fresher and more specific. Hadestown is compelling entertainment with substance as well as terrific visuals.
As ebodied by Eva Noblezada, Eurydice is plucky and ingenuous. The performer has a strong, clear pop voice and a wonderfully expressive face.
Unfortunately, counterpart Reeve Carney is the weak link. Though he was splendid as Dorian Gray on Showtime, Carney’s high, high tenor and milquetoast demeanor makes us wonder why she wants him.
Amber Gray (Persephone) delivers in spades. The actress moves like a possessed dream. Gritty vocals erupt. She’s vibrant, earthy, and sexy, pulling off eventual gravitas with conviction.
Patrick Page had to be everyone’s first choice for Hades. The master-of-all villains brings lethal virtuosity and unmistakable basso to the role without letting the god become a cartoon. We buy unadulterated evil/impulsive malevolence, the high stakes struggle of whether to let Orpheus leave, and rekindled love, all of which are ironically expressed in human terms.
Director Rachel Chavkin, who’s been with the piece from its beginning, does a marvelous job with integrating production aspects, actor focus, movement awareness, and stage use.
Except for Orpheus’s tuneless, guitar-in-hand numbers (explain how this was allowed to happen), melody is pungent and infectious as, excuse me, hell. There’s a voodoo feel to much of it. Music Direction/Vocal Arrangements by Liam Robinson have deep texture, sybaritic flourishes and a sufficient through-line to keep different genres smoothly transitioning. Brian Drye excels on trombone.
David Neumann’s Choreography makes a bawdy, inebriated puppet of Persephone, slaves and brutes of factory workers, rousing celebrants of townspeople. Dancing is splendidly precise.
The seamy, multi-level New Orleans club in which we find ourselves comes replete with a curved, wrought iron stairway and decorative step fronts. Evocation of Hell is inspired. Walls and ceiling crack open making us feel like we’re at the bottom of a deep well with industrial lighting. Everything takes on rust. Overhead lamps hypnotically swing out over the front of the audience. Moving sidewalks and turntables are used to great effect. (Scenic Designer Rachel Hauk.)
All this is enhanced by Bradley King’s Lighting Design – in particular the use of multiple well-aimed spots and industrial lumination in Hell.
Michael Krass’ Costumes range from ragtag chorus to dapper Hades (steel toed, snakeskin boots and silver pinstripes), Persephone’s seasonal Louisiana finery (love the fur) to factory workers in Mad Max leather overalls and strappy boots.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening: Eve Noblezada, Andre de Shields (Hermes), Reeve Carney
Music/Lyrics/Book by Anais Mitchell
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th Street