Review: HADESTOWN at Gammage Auditorium

HADESTOWN has arrived in the Land of the Sun Devil for a six-day run at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium. The 2019 Tony Best Musical winner pulls it off with an expressive, haunting score and director Rachel Chavkin’s dark imagination.

This tragic romance brings together two ancient Greek love stories; the young and passionate Orpheus and Eurydice, and the long-term relationship of Hades and Persephone, the goddess of spring.

Anaïs Mitchell (composer, lyricist, author) premiered her New Orleans-style folk-pop and jazz musical in 2006 at a small theater in Vermont. Not knowing where to take the project next, she took the JESUS ​​CHRIST SUPERSTAR, EVITA, TOMMY and AMERICAN IDIOT route by recording a concept album version. In 2012, she and Chavkin (responsible for the vibrant direction of NATASHA, PIERRE & LA GRANDE COMÈTE DE 1812) began to rework HADESTOWN for a return to the stage. It opened off-Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop in 2016 before moving to London and Ontario for further rewrites. The gritty, minimalist version left out for an imposing, looming decorative version more appropriate for the big stage.

In the original Greek myth, [SPOILER ALERT] Orpheus ventures to retrieve his beloved Eurydice who, after a fatal snakebite, has been transferred to Hades. In HADESTOWN, the only significant plot change is noteworthy. Instead of traveling by snakebite, Eurydice makes the choice to go to Hades after an altercation with the King of the Underworld.

Coupled with a penniless musician, Eurydice found herself starving, cold and vulnerable to an offer from Hades of plentiful food and shelter in her version of Hell’s basement jazz club, akin to a foundry.

Meanwhile, Persephone must return to the Underworld herself. She spends half of each year above ground bringing joy and wine to the whole world and the other six months smothered and discontented underground alongside Hades. The arrival of the young lovers drives Persephone to renewed outrage and a desire to change the status quo. Hades grants O and E’s escape on the condition that neither return on their journey home. Growing increasingly worried that he has been tricked by Hades, Orpheus peeks behind him and sends his beloved back to the underworld.

It is certainly the narration before the story. Hermès (played by a devious and divine Eddie Noel Rodriguez) is our emcee. As a herald of the gods, Hermes directs, introduces the characters and, by operating without a fourth wall, keeps the show self-aware. More of a “Here’s what happened next…” and “Here’s my opinion on that…” type of narrator, Hermes himself doesn’t advance the inner plot onstage, leaving that assignment to The Fates.

Played vibrantly and distinctly by Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renee, The Fates is a window into the main characters’ decision-making. A twisted, upside-down version of the “Rags” from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, their interjections and observations are the characters who weigh choice and consequence. That’s wonderful. The location for the main characters’ interior monologues is not the usual park-and-bark format. Instead, using The Fates, we hear the inner monologue and see the external, observable action at the same time. While Hermes takes care of the commentary, The Fates pushes the plot forward by recounting everyone’s decisions.

Nicholas Barasch is serious and sympathetic in the role of Orpheus with an extraordinarily pleasant voice. Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice is also a world-class singer and a compelling performer. Both actors, however, are undermined by the boilerplate nature of their roles.

We just don’t have the same level of empathy for a couple still in the honeymoon phase. Orpheus knows before he even hears her speak that he wants to marry Eurydice and she is won over almost instantly with (literal) sleight of hand. Love at first sight and insta-soulmate devices may kick off the plot, but rock their generic love.

We get a lot more detail on Hades and Persephone’s LTR. When they interact, we can see millennia of growth and change in their feelings for each other. Their capture of interest places Orpheus and Eurydice in the background of their own story.

Kimberly Marable as Persephone is an eye-catcher. Charming and party-loving, vulnerable and passionate, she reigns whenever she’s at the forefront of the story and those she’s not. A stunning performance that alone is worth the price of admission.

An incredibly versatile package carries much of the weight, establishing adjustability both above and below the ground. The stage images they create using the turntable are impressive and expressive and diligently reset the tone from scene to scene. I would call the band (Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Ian Coulter-Buford, Sydney Parra and Alex Lugo) underrated, but their curtain call volume rightly matched the tracks.

What about New Orleans-infused musicals and demons? Hades conjures up “The Chimney Man,” a thinly veiled Satan serving as purgatory prosecutor and judge in JELLY’S LAST JAM, an early 1990s vehicle for Gregory Hines sorting out the life of jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton. CAROLINE OU LE CHANGE has her infernal dryer, and Disney’s THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG has Dr. Faciler. (Come to think of it, Keith David, the “How did you get the beans over the blunt?” dad in There’s Something About Mary, played the first and third of the trio below. on it, landing a Tony name for JELLY’S LAST JAM.) Add HADESTOWN to this list of musicals using the Creole devil device to great acclaim.

In this nationwide HADESTOWN tour, Kevyn Morrow’s Hades is masterfully controlled and deliberate, a source of hypnotic energy for his comrades. His painful decision, influenced by The Fates, to let the lovers return home is the true climax of the story, leaving the lovers’ journey and Orpheus’ gaze back as action and resolve waning (from the inner plot of the series, at least).

The outer plot resolves itself when Hermes declares the show to be a tragedy they will tell over and over again, if only for the joy of a great performance and the odd but ever-present hope that this time it might end differently.

HADESTOWN is an impressive project with so much to praise and enjoy, but all the studios in the world can’t change the fact that characters from Greek myths are often painted with wide, paper-thin strokes. The classic model gives Mitchell and the series’ skilled designers a jungle gym for emotion, style, and theme, but forces out tropes that undermine our human connection with the material. The audience was amazed and amused, jumping to their feet at the first moment of the curtain call, but their eyes were dry. The show doesn’t stick to the landing because after being told dozens of times that HADESTOWN is a sad, sad story, it isn’t.

HADESTOWN plays through April 24 at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.

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