Walter Kerr Theatre, NYC, April 19, 2019

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Andre De Shields

Those classic lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice, take us to Hell and back in Hadestown. One of Broadway’s latest musical entries this season, Hadestown is the mythological story told here through well-crafted music and an imaginative book that was adapted by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. 

The show recently moved uptown from the New York Theatre Workshop, as well as from The National Theatre in London. Developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812), the production at the Walter Kerr Theatre is zippy with vibrancy and folk-era romance. It features a pop-rock/bluegrass/jazz score and presents some debatable issues—like industry, climate change, and society. 

The cast is accompanied by a superb on-stage band, bringing fresh creativity to this musical season. They offer a dreamy song for the young lovers, Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada), and a devil-may-care rock ‘n’ jive, New Orleans ambiance to liven things on earth. A chorus drives the rhythmic industrialized energy to the underworld where everyone labors under the reign of malevolent King Hades (The God of Death), played by Patrick Page with a profoundly threatening voice.

Reeve Carney & Eva Noblezada

When Hades speaks, the denizens listen. When he orders them to build a wall, they get started. “The wall keeps out the enemy; And we build the wall to keep us free.” (Note: this work was created before the Trump era). Even Hades’ fun-loving wife, Persephone (Amber Grey), seasonally leaves her husband and home to kick up her heels every spring with sunshine and music. Grey is a crowd-pleaser as Persephone, sexy and ebullient, singing “Livin’ It Up on Top” and “Our Lady of the Underground.” Choreography by David Neumann offers non-stop vitality.

The story starts with Hermes—played by a cool and snazzy André De Shields—who moves with silky slides and sly pivots. There’s no doubt that he is the head man in a town that’s set sometime in a long-ago era. Hermes knows everyone and everyone knows him, including Orpheus, a sensitive guitar-strumming waiter with songwriting in his soul. Hermes says that Orpheus is an idealistic young man who “could make you see how the world could be, in spite of the way that it is.” With Carney’s high tenor voice and romantic spirit, Orpheus seems more fragile than he really is. When he meets Eurydice, a homeless, impoverished, and astute young newcomer, he falls instantly in love with her. Eurydice is astute, a wanderer observing life around her and not expecting much from it. As she once comments, “Weather ain’t the way it was before, ain’t no spring or fall anymore.” She is accompanied by the graceful Fates (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad), a three-woman chorus that comments on her journey. Noblezasda’s voice is impressive, with soft edges and layered interpretations, touching in “All I’ve Ever Known.”

Patrick Page & Reeve Carney

Unfortunately, Eurydice makes a deal with Hades and, accompanied by the Fates, she descends into Hadestown. Orpheus, heartbroken, follows, hoping to persuade Hades to allow Eurydice to return to life. His pleas are bolstered by Hermes, who wanders between life and death, and even Persephone. Hades finally agrees to let Orpheus lead Eurydice and other workers back to earth. The caveat is that Orpheus must not look back at Eurydice as they embark on the long trip. If he does, Eurydice will be returned in Hadestown. Words from Hermes address this tragic story: “To know how it ends/And still begin/To sing it again/As if it might turn out this time.”

The production values are lively and colorful with instrumentalists on both sides of Rachel Hauck’s bi-level sets, Bradley King’s creative lighting, and sound effects by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz. Michael Krass dresses Hades and Persiphone with lush, appropriately royal colors, and Hermes works his flashy silver three-piece suit. Under the direction of Rachel Chavkin, this stage brings a bright freshness to a classic tale and Hadestown is definitely a must-see for this season.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.