Anybody want a drink? Because Broadway just landed in D.C. and it’s the joyous, raucous post-quarantine experience we have all been waiting for.
Welcome to the Underworld, ladies and gentlemen. Hermes will be your host now through Halloween at the Kennedy Center where “Hadestown” — the last show to win the best-musical Tony Award before Covid shut theaters for 18 months — is here to remind us that while great tragedies may befall us, we will always have a reason to sing again.
If you live in a town where this official Broadway tour is scheduled to visit, buy your tickets now. If you don’t, save up for gas money and find a way to get there. This production — a near carbon copy of its Broadway equal — is not to be missed.
“Hadestown” comes from an unlikely source for a Broadway musical: Composer Anaïs Mitchell was an indie-folk singer living in small-town Vermont when she started a collection of songs that intertwined the ancient Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Persephone and Hades. Mitchell experimented with the songs for years before working them into a 2010 concept album that was a big hit with her fans in the indie-folk music scene. The Broadway version emerged when Mitchell joined forces with director Rachel Chavkin, who had recently earned accolades for her direction of another unconventional work that made it to Broadway: “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” Mitchell and Chavkin brainstormed what “Hadestown” could look like on Broadway, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The result is a dreamlike reinterpretation of the story of Orpheus who follows his love Eurydice into a smoky Underworld where Hades is holding her along with an army of workers. Hades, nudged by his wife Persephone, agrees to let Eurydice go as long as Orpheus never looks back to check that she is following. Let’s just say, things don’t go well.
“Hadestown” sets the story, musically and visually, on what feels like a steamy New Orleans street corner. And why not? It wouldn’t be the first time the road to hell started on Bourbon Street. Scenic design by Rachel Hauck features a rotating stage allowing the characters to move seamlessly between the railroad station “on the road to hell” and the Underworld. An onstage band, led by Audrey Ochoa on the trombone, keeps the energy flowing.
Don’t expect fully fleshed-out characters in “Hadestown.” We are in the world of myth where mythological characters serve as guideposts for storytelling and lesson learning. The character of Hermes, the Greek God of Travel, narrates the show in a snazzy silver suit (costume design by Michael Krass). On Broadway, Hermes was played by the incomparable André de Shields who won a Tony for the part. Those are some big winged shoes to fill but Levi Kreis (a Tony winner in his own right for his performance in Broadway’s “Million Dollar Quartet”) puts such a unique stamp on the character that it is fascinating to see a completely new, yet equally transfixing, interpretation of the character.
Nicholas Barasch brings an energy to Orpheus that I found lacking in the Broadway original. For anyone who didn’t get to see Barasch in Broadway’s “She Loves Me,” a role that earned him a Tony nomination, this is a chance to see one of Broadway’s greatest talents take on a meaty role that truly showcases his skills.
Morgan Siobhan Green inspires as Eurydice, and Kimberly Marable gets the party started as Persephone, the downtrodden wife of Hades (an equally good Kevyn Morrow) who is always up for a good time in her eye-popping green dress.
Mitchell’s songs possess a homogeneity that gives her music a distinctive sound while never feeling repetitive. Once you lose yourself to it you are squarely and unmistakably in the world of Anaïs Mitchell. Upbeat numbers like “Livin It Up On Top” will have you dancing in your seat while somber ballads including “Why We Build the Wall” lend the show a political tint.
All the elements of Chavkin’s original vision for “Hadestown” are here, turning it from a mere song cycle into a true Broadway spectacle. The much-praised swinging lamps thrill at the climax of act one in “Wait for Me” (lighting design by Bradley King), the workers slogging through Hades’ grimy factory feature crisp, visceral choreography (by David Neumann), and the trio of singers known as the Fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne) whisper doubt in Eurydice’s ear.
“Hadestown” is a musical invitation to find joy in the midst of tragedy, to toast “to the world we dream about, and the one we live in now,” and to tell stories again and again even when you know the ending. Because when the world goes dark, the simple act of gathering to tell stories is a victory in itself.
Bringing this show to the Kennedy Center as it reopens is the perfect way to declare theater is back and ready to do its job. How wonderful that we can gather to tell stories again.
“Hadestown” runs at the Kennedy Center through October 31. Buy tickets here.
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