Don't like to read?
A musical based on Greek myths reset in a contemporary city resembling New Orleans with jazzy songs touching on climate change and capitalism seems a bit much. However, “Hadestown,” the Tony-award-winning musical that opened this week at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, brings the Greek myths and jazzy score together with a generally upbeat show on the power of love.
Written by singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, “Hadestown” takes the audience to the underworld, ruled by King Hades and Persephone, his wife. Their tale is intertwined with the love story of young adults Orpheus and Eurydice as they grapple monotonous industrialization, vagaries of nature and self-confidence issues.
Mitchell’s creative effort was only the fourth Broadway show written by one woman. Her melodies are clever and catchy. Rachel Chavkin’s direction, along with Rachel Hauck’s scenic design, help bring the piece to life as does the stellar ensemble. It is clear why the highly regarded Broadway production won eight of the 14 Tony Awards for which it was nominated in 2019, including Best Musical. (It also took the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2020.
Not All ‘Living It Up on Top’
“Hadestown” begins with suave Greek god Hermes (Tony winner Levi Kreis) serving as emcee and introducing the characters and premise. Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green), a young woman down on her luck, comes into town in the hopes of escaping the harsh weather and famine elsewhere. Played by Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne, the Fates are a Greek chorus of caustic goddesses who help flesh out the tale by raising questions and pointing out dilemmas. They relate how the changing climate affected Eurydice, “… there ain’t a thing that you can do, when the weather takes a turn on you.” They sing about a world in flames and hurricanes. “Flood will get you if the fire don’t, anyway the wind blows.”
The young musician Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), Hermes’ ward, is smitten with Eurydice and asks her to marry him. While he does not have money either, Orpheus promises that he is writing a song to bring back spring and end the hardship.
Persephone (Kimberly Marable) is a goddess who spends half the year in the world above bringing warm weather and half the year making the Earth cold while she’s in Hadestown. She returns to bring summer, and sings, “If you ain’t six feet underground, You’re livin’ it up on top.”
Hades (Kevyn Morrow) also comes to the surface to try and lure Eurydice to leave Orpheus and the cold. He promises her that in Hadestown she will never be hungry or cold again. The Fates are also encouraging too. They sing about life not being fair and she needs to fight for her rightful share, “What you gonna do when the chips are down?” Eurydice gives in and follows Hades. However, Orpheus decides to rescue her from Hadestown.
Manual Labor as Hell
When the musical goes down under to Hadestown, it turns into a critique of capitalism and hard labor. Hades, as everyone’s boss or foreman, is the exploiter of their souls. The people in industrialized Hadestown work in harsh conditions, mining or shoveling coal. The work is repetitive and literally mind-numbing. The workers keep “punchin’ in” and “can’t punch out.” The pessimistic Fates caution not to waste time fighting things, “Nothing changes anyhow.”
One project for the workers sounds awfully familiar. They sing about it in “Why We Build the Wall.” The song predates President Donald Trump’s obsession with building a border wall by several years. However, the comparison is uncanny. The Hadestown border wall will “keep us free. The wall keeps out the enemy,” the worker chorus chants. The song goes on to note the wall keeps out poverty, too. The wall also keeps in workers in Hadestown, but they are brainwashed to believe keeping others out is best.
Company and Coming Shows
The “Hadestown” touring cast is excellent from the leads to the chanting/singing worker chorus. Marable’s Persephone steals every scene she is in. Morrow is an engaging Hades. Kreis’ Hermes is charming and effective in moving the tale along. Moyano, Odorisio, and Renne are entertaining as the Fates, singing and also playing musical instruments. In fact, “Hadestown” has a talented on-stage band (Michiko Egger, Maria Im, Anthony Ty Johnson, Calvin Jones, Nathan Koci, Audrey Ochoa, and Jacob Yates). They are joined at times by cast members, such as Barasch playing guitar on his numbers.
“Hadestown” will be at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through May 29, 2022. The show is back on Broadway, along with other shows shuddered by the pandemic. Can’t make it to Los Angeles or New York? Don’t worry. The engagement at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles is part of a national tour. There will be several West Coast cities visited by Hadestown in the next few months. They include San Diego; San Francisco; Spokane and Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Reno, NV; and Salt Lake City. Then the upbeat production of “Hadestown” returns to the greater Los Angeles area with an engagement at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa August 9-21. The “Hadestown” tour then starts to move east through the rest of the country.
Written by Dyanne Weiss
“Hadestown” performance April 27, 2022, in Los Angeles
Center Theatre Group
Photos by T Charles Erickson of (top) Eurydice, Orpheus and the Fates and of (inset) Marable as Persephone in “Hadestown,” courtesy Center Theatre Group