The Tony Award-winning musical based on the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice was a sensation when it landed on Broadway in 2019, and rightly so. Creatively so different than a standard modern musical, “Hadestown” gave audiences something fresh and invigorating, and still dazzles packed houses in the Big Apple.
With Music, Lyrics, and a Book by singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell, the story tells the tale of the young and naïve Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) who swiftly falls for Eurydice (Amaya Braganza), a newcomer to town. A penniless poet, Orpheus doesn’t impress Eurydice all that much, but his earnestness and desire to write a song that will bring life to their little valley charms her, and soon enough, she is in love as well.
But their small town/village has a history that includes none other than Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), who comes calling for his wife Persephone (Lana Gordon) every six months. When she’s gone from town, cold and hardship overtake the town. When she returns, it is Spring once again, with abundance everywhere.
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After Persephone’s brief return, Hades comes early to bring her back to Hadestown (read: Hell) but is struck by Eurydice’s beauty and innocence. He leaves to return home but is clearly drawn to the girl.
As Orpheus obsessively works on his song that will bring springtime year-round, Eurydice tries to find food and comfort for the town, but it is difficult. When she is offered the chance to go to Hadestown, where she will have a warm place to rest her head, she considers it. But she is torn between her need for shelter and her love for Orpheus. But he is so focused on his song that he doesn’t hear her call, so she goes. When he discovers what she has done, he immediately knows he must go after her.
“Hadestown” is told differently from a lot of standard musical fare. With moments of breaking the fourth wall (almost as if you’re at a concert), a narrator that guides you through the trials and tribulations of the characters (Will Mann as Hermes), and there’s a plot that is mostly sung through, unlike anything you’ve seen.
The staging of the touring version differs slightly from the Broadway show – most noticeably, the absence of a center stage elevator that brings some characters down to Hadestown. To accommodate different theater spaces, the “elevator” is shown at the back of the stage via a wall that splits in two horizontally. It still works and is really the most noticeable change.
The lighting, choreography, and set design are gorgeous and give audiences a different sort of spectacle. Part New Orleans balcony front, part local bar, as well as an ironworks version of Hell, the set can change on a dime just by a change in light and shadow. It’s wondrous to experience.
But it is the actors that truly make this show sing.
While Andre De Shields won a Tony Award for his dynamic portrayal of Hermes on Broadway, Will Mann puts his own spin on the role and fully makes it his own. A little sassy and winking, Mann prances as the narrator of the piece. He’s super fun to watch.
Quinn, as Hades, brings a smooth baritone to the piece, but rather than a dangerously sexy, seductive devil, he’s a bit more stoic and lighter than his predecessors. While not as dangerous as Patrick Page’s original performance, I enjoyed his vocals and take on the role.
Gordon, as Persephone, is a spitfire and often brings the house down with her vivacious presence and vocals. The Fates (played by Marla Louissaint, Lizzie Markson, and Hannah Shreer) are perfectionists as the temptresses of the story, offering up the angel/devil choices to the characters as they contemplate the difficult choices ahead.
And then there are our two leads. Braganza’s voice is as richly gorgeous as Eurydice. She plays it a bit more on the innocent side but still toughly hesitant, her voice is powerful. The chemistry with Orpheus is charming almost immediately, which sets up the story nicely.
Rodriguez, as Orpheus, is wholesome and sweet, so much so his character sometimes gets lost among the big personalities surrounding him. Alternating between his striking falsetto and rich tenor range, he brings innocence and sincerity to Orpheus, making it easy to see why someone could fall in love with him. What he lacks in maturity changes somewhat as he journeys to rescue his beloved.
All in all, “Hadestown” is an original epic musical that, for some audience members, might take a bit to get used to. But once you settle in, you can’t help but be wowed by the mastery of the music, the sets, and the passion put into every moment of the production.