My daughter and I went to see Hadestown recently…my Christmas present to her, a show at the intersection of my list and hers. It was excellent, and no surprise–it won eight Tony awards in 2019, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
The performance starts with a show stopper, “Road to Hell,” in which Hermes, messenger of the gods, god of boundaries, conductor of souls to the afterlife, introduces the characters (it was inspired by the introduction to Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812). He’s played by André De Shields, who is a theater legend and a force of nature in winged shoes (and the winner of the Tony award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical). He tells us, “It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy / It’s a sad song…We’re gonna sing it anyway.” You’ve been warned.
This sad tale is a bit of a mashup between the myths of Persephone and Hades and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s beautiful, it’s energetic, and it’s powerful. Amber Gray is amazing playing Persephone–unhappy, louche, drinking too much, and setting the world out of joint with her troubles: “Hard times in the world of men,” indeed. She’s even better here than she was in The Great Comet–and that’s saying something.
The state of her marriage isn’t good. Her husband, Hades, god of the underworld (Patrick Page, with an impossibly deep voice, pinstripe suit, and a menacing, magnetic stage presence) is doing his part to wreck the planet and destroy the unfortunate souls in his domain. His song “Why We Build the Wall” sounds like an explicit critique of Trump:
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free
But it was written in 2006. Ten years after that, the composer, Anaïs Mitchell, wrote in an op/ed piece, “People began to ask if it was written in response to the Trump campaign, when in reality, both Trump and the song were simply tapping into the same folk archetypes.”
And then there are the three fates, performed by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad. They’re gorgeous and shimmery, make beautiful harmonies, and nudge the characters along to their destinies. They pick up instruments and join the band, they dance, they sing, they’re irresistible, and they’re in charge here. (They’re nobody’s friends, though. You’ve been warned again.)
And there’s the music–the musicians are on stage and they’re a treat to watch, I was particularly taken with the enthusiastic trombonist, Bryan Drye, and loved the New Orleans-inspired carnival atmosphere, busy and vibrant, joyful and sad at once.
Finally, our tragic young lovers: the romantic Orpheus (Reeve Carney) who has a song so powerful and beautiful that it will set the world back to rights, and his beloved Eurydice (Eva Noblezada). They are appealing characters, and fine actors, both, but they do not have the star power of Ms. Gray, Mr. Page, or Mr. De Shields. (Or maybe their parts just aren’t as inherently interesting. Heroes and heroines can be dull–antiheroes and gods are most decidedly not.)
Still, when we reach the end of the sad story–it won’t be a surprise if you paid attention to the warnings. And it won’t be a surprise if you know your mythology. But it will be utterly devastating, regardless. There’s a collective gasp in the theater. We’re reminded of the importance of stories, the power of music, and given a chance to admire their courage and remember what was, rather than dwell on their tragedy. And with that combination of beauty, sorrow, art, and remembrance, we’re sent on our way.
Tickets on Broadway (Walter Kerr Theater) are available through November. A tour will begin this fall, with stops in San Diego and Dallas scheduled so far.
Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead-In Image (Screenshot) Courtesy of Official Site