Two Greek myths fused together in ‘Hadestown’ send powerful anti-capitalist message – People’s World
LOS ANGELES — Winner of eight 2019 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album Score, with lyrics and a book by Anaïs Mitchell, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, Hadesville opened here on April 27. Additionally, it has won four Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical, and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical. It was the most honored show of Broadway’s 2018-19 season.
But the awards alone aren’t the reason theater-goers are expected to flock to downtown Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theater in the coming weeks. It’s quite simply one of the most powerful and timely musical and dramatic experiences you’re likely to encounter for some time. The fact that this exquisitely rendered feat of musical storytelling is the work of two women is in itself remarkable. It runs until May 29.
Hadesville originated Mitchell’s independent theater project that toured Vermont, which she later turned into an acclaimed album. Along with artistic collaborator Chavkin, it has evolved into a grand new genre-defying musical that blends modern American folk and ballad music with New Orleans-inspired jazz by reimagining two ancient Greek myths in one tightly integrated concept. It’s as fresh a take on ancient history as Brazilian film black orpheus was in its time.
Many readers are familiar with these two stories. Orpheus (high tenor Nicholas Barasch), penniless poet and musician, deeply loves Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green), but she is soon taken from him by death. Only by imploring by singing the gods for his release on Earth from the Underworld (Hades) does he gain the privilege of visiting her there just as she is about to descend into the area of the permanent oblivion. He wins the promise that Eurydice can return to Earth with him, but on the condition that on the long walk back he does not look back on her, but must always keep the faith she follows. As any student of mythology knows, he inevitably looks behind him and his bride must return to the Underworld. Yet, as a consolation, he becomes a timeless muse for the arts, as out of his grief and loss he creates a flow of beautiful music to honor love and lovers. (That’s why so many theaters call themselves Orpheum — and who knows, maybe that’s where the phrase “to Hell and back” originated.)
In the second story, Persephone (Kimberly Marable) is the goddess of spring, who returns every year to restore light, warmth, new growth, sustenance, faith, and hope. During the dark and cold months, she returns underground to her “unity of opposites” companion, King Hades, Lord of the Underworld (Kevyn Morrow). Together, their love has made the world go round, but perhaps their love has come to a tipping point: will her eternally recurring springtime be enough to fight the ruinous degradation caused by her husband? While she (a substitute for environmentally conscious socialism?) provides enough bounty for all, he keeps the poor hungry and eager for the gift of regular meals to entrust their souls to his “dark and satanic mills” . He keeps his minions busy night and day mining ores and precious metals, coal and oil, and installing new power grids on the planet’s surface, like the mindless automatons they have become. He also entrusts them with the project of building walls to protect their “freedom” from the “enemy” “who wants what we have” – this is clearly the musical protest of Trump’s time in America. Hades has his choir of workers recite these mantras as a holy patriotic catechism.
This Brechtian version of Hadestown captures the essence of fetishistic monopoly capitalism, amassing wealth like the Uncle Scrooge comic strip beyond any rational purpose other than protecting it from anyone who might snatch it. The “enemy”, in fact, is not outside, but it is the proletariat itself – the world working class if one can say that after all there is not only American workers going to Hadestown. The Fates sing “You Can Have Your Principle When You’ve Got Your Belly Full”, which must be Mitchell’s adaptation of “First Feed the Face, Then Talk Good and Bad” from The Threepenny Opera. In the musical, as Eurydice sets out on her long journey following Orpheus out of Hades, she herself is joined by an army of what is identified in the cast as the Workers’ Chorus, which bears no resemblance to nothing to Eugene O’Neill’s maritime distribution. workers in The hairy monkey.
Apparently there are enough people in the professional theater world to recognize the truths exposed in Hadesville to festoon the show with multiple applause and awards – and there are audiences who continue to buy tickets and fill seats to see it. Art in the oligarchic age of Amazon, Tesla and Uber continues its critical role. As Orpheus says, toasting Persephone’s arrival with wine, “To the world we dream of, and the one we now live in.” And later in a soapbox oratory for the workers, like something out of the Wobblies Little red songbook, “I believe in us together; with each other, we are stronger than we think.
Hadesville opened at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway on April 17, 2019, where it played to sold-out houses every night before performances were suspended due to COVID. It resumed performances on September 2, 2021, as one of the first musicals to reopen on Broadway. And now there’s the North American touring production.
As guide and narrator, we have the slinky Hermès (Levi Kreis), who introduces all the characters as if he’s staging a cabaret staging at his club. At the end he summarizes by saying that it is a sad song that we sing of Orpheus, but we sing it anyway. Who knows? Maybe one day it will be different. The three Destinies, one playing the accordion and the other the violin, are performed by Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne. The workers’ chorus includes Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra and Jamari Johnson Williams.
The two intertwined love stories take place in what appears to be a French Quarter bar with tall windows, slatted shutters, and iron staircases (set design by Rachel Hauck). The arrival of spring is celebrated here, and the staging easily converts to underground Hadestown workshop.
The seven-piece orchestra, not counting the additional percussion effects of the actors and the two Fates with instruments, is divided on risers right and left, and is strong in the strings, with guitar, violin, cello and double bass, perhaps meant to remind us of the lyre of Orpheus, the instrument with which it is traditionally associated and which also features architecturally in many theater and concert hall projects. The score is avant-garde for Broadway with a lot of things familiar in formal terms, especially numbers involving dancing, but also extended vocal solos, duets, trios and ensembles that are so artful and alluring that one could almost qualify them as opera. It could be considered a kind of “Broadway opera” in the sense that many works by Stephen Sondheim are, or older works by Bernstein, Weill, Blitzstein, Loesser and others, as well as older works recent such as hamilton and Light on the Square. I would be remiss if I did not mention the magnificent three-part harmony of the Fates, a mixture of Andrews Sisters, Pointer Sisters, Mozart’s Three Ladies magic fluteand the mesmerizing trio of female voices (Sophie, Octavian and La Maréchale) in Strauss’s The Rider of the Rose.
Everything about the production is enchanting, a brilliant contemplation of timeless themes such as nature versus industry, abundance versus scarcity, faith and doubt, love and fear, all creatively staged. with costumes by Michael Krass, sound design by Kevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz. . Bradley King’s lighting design is extremely effective, except, I’m sorry to say, many times too often when bright spotlights are pointed annoyingly at our eyes. Sensual choreography, as well as a captivating fight scene, are by David Neumann. The audience at the 2,100-seat Ahmanson rose as one to a standing ovation at the final curtain.
Tickets are available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling (213) 972-4400, or in person at the Center Theater Group box office at the Ahmanson Theater at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles 90012. May 29, Tue-Fri at 8 p.m., Sat. at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sun. at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (with some exceptions noted on the CTG website).
Hadesville returns to Southern California when it performs at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr. in Cosa Mesa, Orange County, August 9-21. Information on SCFTA.org.
The promotional trailer for Hadesville can be viewed here.