The balance of the world is tilted in the wrong direction, and the characters of HADESTOWN are all tumbled up in the Greek drama of two love stories.
Playing now on the Connor Palace stage through February 19, 2023, we are introduced to the company of this production by Hermes (played by the incomparable Nathan Lee Graham), our dapper and smooth-voiced god on the “Road to Hell.” Graham’s magnetic presence is the perfect way to start off this journey, as he names all of the players with enthusiasm and gets the audience into the story with the jazzy rhythms and soul of the musical.
The world’s seasons are controlled by a love balance between Hades (played by a debonaire Matthew Patrick Quinn) and his wife Persephone (played by the likeably formidable Brit West). Persephone is a bright, colorful force of warmth – when she’s on the earth it is spring/summer. But six months of the year, she is with her beloved Hades in Hadestown (a dark, mechanical, industry-driven, and misery-filled place below the world). The warmth goes away with her, and thus the earth is cast into winter and stark poverty. Rinse. Repeat.
Enter Orpheus (played by an ethereal Chibueze Ihuoma), a poor musician with dreams of finishing a song that’s so beautiful that it will permanently drive away all cold and dark from the world with its glory. Eurydice (played by the talented Hannah Whitley) blows into town poor, starving, and taunted by the Fates (played in perfect harmony by the amazingly in-sync Dominique Kempf, Belén Moyano, and Nyla Watson). Upon seeing her, Orpheus falls in love and asks Eurydice to marry him – and she declines him with good humor and playfulness. Their love grows as the state of the world declines (Persephone has been away much longer than she should be), and she does eventually develop a great love for Orpheus.
Orpheus, though, is busy writing his song to save the world, and Eurydice (plagued by hunger and infinite cold) makes a deal with Hades to join him down below for an eternity of “freedom,” being warm and fed in exchange for endless work and mind-numbing toil. She signs away her life and slowly lets herself be erased in the world of steel and namelessness. The rest of the story pretty much focuses on Orpheus’ quest to find her, what happens between him and Eurydice, and also what transpires within the stormy relationship of Hades and the patience-waning Persephone.
There is no doubt that this production with music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell, is a multi-layered tale. Devised with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it is the winner of eight 2019 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical and the 2020 Grammy® Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
For this reviewer, it is the music that dominates the heart of the 2-hour and 30-minute experience (plus intermission). The New Orleans spirit in the big brass /string combo sound steals the show and radiates the joy that is evident in the company.
On a personal note, I’ve never before had a “favorite orchestra” member in a musical –> until Hadestown. Trombone wizard Emily Frederickson dominates with her passionate playing and feels a bit like she’s part of the company. Simply put – she wins. The rest of the orchestra rolls right along with her in energy, with special nods to Eric Kang on piano/conducting, Kely Pinheiro on cello, Clare Armenante on violin, Michiko Egger on guitar, Calvin Jones on double bass, and Eladio Rojas on drums/percussion. WOW. Just WOW.
This show is gorgeous. The talent is incredible (special nod to the hard-working chorus). The sets and lights are luscious and gorgeously rendered, the costumes are sumptuous, and the sound is appropriate. Capping off everything is the spirited choreography by David Neumann.
One of this reviewer’s favorite technical and musical moments of the performance comes near the end of Act I with the song “Wait for Me.” As Orpheus descends into hell, five round metal lights lower from the fly area and swing in perfect tandem within the number. As Orpheus, Ihuoma sings his heart out in impassioned determination, his voice soaring while danger swings around him. Such a simple concept, but so very poignant.
Regardless of too much extensive falsetto singing (I know – it’s written that way, but… just one humble opinion), the music and songs are enjoyable, the dancing is lively, and the experience is epic in regards to a journey of love versus politics and capitalism.
Hadestown plays now through February 19, 2023 on the Connor Palace stage at Playhouse Square. Tickets are $25.00-$120.00 and can be purchased at http://www.playhousesquare.org.