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Hadestown: Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Note: This is a review of the 2016 production of Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop. Click here for information about the 2019 Broadway production of Hadestown.]
In the myth, Eurydice didn’t have much of a choice. She died, woke up in the underworld and waited around for Orpheus to save her. Not so in Hadestown, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s folk-opera adaptation that blends ancient myth with modern sensibility—and a rich topper of New Orleans jazz.
Orpheus (Damon Daunno) is a puppy-eyed dreamer and Eurydice (Nabiyah Be) the pragmatic girl who falls for him in spite of herself. When poverty comes knocking, Eurydice catches a train to Hadestown, an underground capitalist dystopia overseen by a robber-baron Hades (Patrick Page). It’s fascinating to watch Eurydice struggle with her decisions via the chorus of Fates (Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton and Shaina Taub), who curl their tendrils around the story.
Hadestown started off as a concept album featuring heavyweights like Ani DiFranco and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. For the stage adaptation, developed with Rachel Chavkin, Mitchell rounded out the tale with a passel of new songs. The stellar ensemble fills the theater with soaring harmonies, weaving in and out of the audience and the onstage band. Mitchell’s music, lush and strange and lyrically brilliant, has found its match in this cast. Be cuts to the quick as a torn Eurydice; Amber Gray plays Persephone with elegant world-weariness; and Page sings Hades with a voice like boulders rolling down a mountain.
The one weak spot is Daunno, whose vocal and acting chops don’t stack up against his peers (ironic for the ancient world’s greatest rock star). Still, Hadestown is something special, a sensory feast that’s also a passionate debate between pragmatism and romance. “It’s an old song,” Hermes (Chris Sullivan) sings in the bluesy opening number; but Mitchell and Chavkin breathe life into a tale we’ve heard many times before.—Jenna Scherer
New York Theatre Workshop (Off Broadway). By Anaïs Mitchell. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.