Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
The story of the penniless poet and musician Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) and the cold and hungry Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) centers on the deep love the two characters have as soon as they meet and what happens after Eurydice is drawn to the Underworld in hope of a better life. As Orpheus attempts to find her and bring her back to the surface, the story intersects with the myth of Hades (Kevyn Morrow), a tyrant who oversees the underworld, and his wife Persephone (Kimberly Marable). With Hermes (understudy Eddie Noel Rodríguez at the performance I attended) serving as narrator, the basic plot sticks fairly close to the main plot points of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, while changing the local to a timeless world reminiscent somewhat of a dystopian New Orleans, with the gorgeous and driving jazz-infused score by Anaïs Mitchell tying into this locale.
The creators clearly took a lot of liberties with the material. They've updated the son of a muse Orpheus' choice of musical instrument from lyre to electric guitar and instead of dying by a snakebite on her wedding day, Eurydice is drawn by Hades' offer for a train ticket to Hadestown where she's promised she will find warmth and sustenance. Hades has now turned the underworld into his own self-titled town where he controls workers to frack the ground for oil and other natural resources. He also spouts off about how he built a wall to keep out the poor, which is eerily reminiscent of the rants of a certain former U.S. president, even though the song was written years before 2016. Hades also draws his wife Persephone back to Hadestown earlier than usual which, along with the effects of the fracking, forces the climate above ground to change and for summer to end sooner than usual. Those changes provide a nifty reason for Eurydice to decide to leave the barren world above ground to go with Hades. Also, having Orpheus' song that he's been working on to bring Spring back as the way to inspire compassion from Hades, and Hades' decision on if he'll let Eurydice leave Hadestown, is a nice touch.
However, in the first half of the first act it takes a while for all of the pieces to come into place, with the motive for Eurydice's decision to go to Hadestown barely fleshed out and somewhat confusing. If she is so in love with Orpheus, why does she instantly jump at Hades' offer? And the show doesn't truly soar until Orpheus' journey to the Underground (the superbly staged "Wait for Me") which comes toward the end of the first act. There is also a lot of repetition in the score, with repeated choruses of some of the songs (we are endlessly told that Hadestown is "way down under the ground.") Somewhat reminiscent of Roger's song in Rent that he is working on for all of that show, once Orpheus finally sings the song he's been working on, that he says will bring Spring back, it's actually not that good. Fortunately, the second act is better than the first and, in their revisions, Mitchell and Chavkin haven't put a happy spin on the end of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. And while that's something that I was thinking they might have done, it's pretty apparent that wouldn't happen when Hermes states numerous times that this is a tragic tale.
The national tour cast is quite good, although sometimes some of their vocals are hard to make out due to poor enunciation. Barash and Green make a lovely couple that face many obstacles in their journey to be together, and their connection with each other is palpable. Morrow and Marable are equally believable as lovers who are in a little need of couple's counseling. Rodríguez is charming as Hermes but lacks some of the charisma that Andre De Shields has in the part on the original Broadway cast recording. Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne are a powerhouse trio as the Fates, who serve a Greek chorus and the voices in Eurydice's head.
While Mitchell's lyrics are good, they aren't great, but her music is sublime, even if there is a lot of repetition in it, with a combination of jazz, pop, folk, and traditional musical theatre ballads, and an emphasis on trombone, accordion, and harmonica in the gorgeous Tony Award winning orchestrations by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose that infuse the entire score with the sound of New Orleans jazz. Chavkin's direction is intimate when necessary and also highly theatrical, with fantastic use of Rachel Hauck's Tony-winning New Orleans French Quarter inspired set design that, spoiler alert, cracks open and moves apart when Orpheus descends into the depths below. Hauck's use of a rotating platform at center stage adds an abundance of movement and excitement to the show. David Neumann's Tony-nominated choreography is interesting, and Michael Krass' Tony-nominated costumes are an odd mix of old-fashioned New Orleans and dystopian future, but they manage to convey the two different worlds in the musical. The lighting design by Bradley King is stunning, and the onstage band, led by conductor Cody Owen Stine, is wonderful, including sensational work by Audrey Ochoa on the trombone.
Toward the end of Hadestown, Hermes states that the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one that they're gonna sing about again and again in the hopes that it will turn out this time. While Hadestown has some shortcomings, from the intriguing updating of the story and the nice positive coda the creators added after the curtain call, it's easy to see how this simple, tragic myth continues to inspire adaptations, despite the story having been told so many times before.
Hadestown runs through April 24, 2022, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.hadestown.com/tour.
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Anaïs Mitchell