Theater review by Adam Feldman
Here’s my advice: Go to hell. And by hell, of course, I mean Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s fizzy, moody, thrilling new Broadway musical. Ostensibly, at least, the show is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving girl, boy loses girl again. “It’s an old song,” sings our narrator, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, a master of arch razzle-dazzle). “And we’re gonna sing it again.” But it’s the newness of Mitchell’s musical account—and Rachel Chavkin’s gracefully dynamic staging—that bring this old story to quivering life.
In a New Orleans–style bar, hardened waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) falls for Orpheus (Reeve Carney), a busboy with an otherworldly high-tenor voice who is working, like Roger in Rent, toward writing one perfect song. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so the desperate Eurydice—taunted by the Fates in three-part jazz harmony—opts to sell her soul to the underworld overlord Hades (Patrick Page, intoning jaded come-ons in his unique sub-sepulchral growl, like a malevolent Leonard Cohen). Soon she is forced, by contract, into the ranks of the leather-clad grunts of Hades’s filthy factory city; if not actually dead, she is “dead to the world anyway.” This Hades is a drawling capitalist patriarch who keeps his minions loyal by giving them the minimum they need to survive. (“The enemy is poverty,” he sings to them in the chilling anthem that ends the first act. “And the wall keeps out the enemy.”) Meanwhile, Hades’s miserable, tippling trophy queen, Persephone (the fabulous Amber Gray, a human jolt of absinthe), yearns for the greener pastures of her youth.
Although the narrative has gained some bulk since Hadestown’s Off Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, it is still wight-thin, especially where the central couple is concerned. Orpheus and Eurydice are defined nearly exclusively by their poverty; Mitchell discards most of the original myth’s most interesting details, and barely even dramatizes its now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t finale. (The relationship between Hades and Persephone is richer.) Yet somehow that hardly matters: Hadestown, moment after lovely moment, sweeps you up in its atmospherics and in the intensity of its eco-Marxist vision of solidarity and the liberating potential of art. It looks spectacular—thanks to Rachel Hauck’s set, which features three turntables in concentric circles, and Bradley King’s lighting—but it has a human scale; it feels less like a standard Broadway musical than a concert, a gathering, a happening. (The seven members of the excellent onstage band are called out by name for applause.) And, most important, it has Mitchell’s score: a joyful combination of folk, pop, Dixieland and blues that will make you want to rehear it as soon as the lights come up. You’ll be singing it again in your head for days.
Walter Kerr Theatre (Broadway). Book, music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With Reeve Carney, Eva Noblezada, Amber Gray, Patrick Page, André De Shields. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.