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HADESTOWN The Myth. The Musical

HADESTOWN The Myth. The Musical

National Tour

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Directed and developed by Rachel Chavkin
Co-Conceived By Ben T. Matchstick
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Anais Mitchell
Choreography By David Neumann
Lighting Design by Bradley King
Musical Direction by Cody Owen Stine
Costume Design by Michael Krass
Set Design by Rachel Hauck
Sound Design by Jessica Paz and Nevin Steinberg
Hair Design by Jennifer Mullins
Music Arrangements and Orchestrations by Michael Chorneya and Todd Sickafoose
Musical Supervisor and Vocal Arrangements by Liam Robinson
Dramaturg- Ken Cernigila
Production Stage Manager- Paige Grant
Company Manager- Denny Daniello

ORPHEUS- Nicholas Barasch
EURYDICE- Morgan Siobhan Green
HERMES- Levi Kreis
PERSEPHONE- Kimberly Marable
HADES- Kevyn Morrow
THE FATES- Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne
WORKERS- Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams
Swings- Alex Lugo, Eddie Noel Rodriguez, Nathan Salstone, Kimberly Immanuel

Reviewed Performance: 1/19/2022

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

I have a new competition idea for the SQUID GAME film sequel. This is the Netflix film that was one of their biggest hits ever but has now racked up awards and nominations during this year’s film award season. Here’s the new game concept: The players are placed in a dark, dank place that they cannot make out what it is. The Front man reveals to them that all they have to do is make it to the top of this “place” to the light. They will go through caves, dark tunnels, etc. covered in fog, wet surfaces, and so on. They just have to make it to the top. HOWEVER, walking directly behind them is their most precious loved one. It could be their wife, husband, partner, parent, child. They will follow them on their journey to the top, and if they make it to the top- you both win a million dollars and your lives! BUT the evil dark lord of this game reveals the hellish catch: If the player turns around ANYTIME during the journey for ANY reason to see their loved one- they lose! The penalty? Your loved one is condemned to the dark prison within the Front man’s liar, never to be seen by anyone ever again. Oh, and as a sick joke, the front man has your loved one dressed from head to toe as the little girl from the first film who played Hide and seek!

That is a cruel and sadistic idea, isn’t it? If it sounds familiar, then you’re right. This is a somewhat hodgepodge version of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. This classic tale from Greek mythology is the framework on which Anais Mitchell composed her score, lyrics and authored the book for her first venture into musical theatre, HADESTOWN.

The birth of this musical came to her one lonely night in 2004-2005. Mitchell back then was a struggling musician/artist performing one nighters around Vermont, at that time she was deeply in love with her then boyfriend Noah. On one of those long, late-night drives back to her home, she felt so alone in the car. She just wanted to get home to be with her man, her love, Noah. As the tall streetlights whizzed by her eyes in the darkness of the night (an image that will heavily play years later on stage!), her mind thought of the Greek myths she used to read as a child. Then, out of nowhere, she sang out loud in the car a melody and a simple lyric, “Wait for me. I’m Coming, in my garters and pearls, with what melody did you barter me from the wicked underworld?” The embers of HADESTOWN were lit that very night!

Back in Barre, Vermont Mitchell came in contact with Ben Matchstick, an actor/director of avant garde theater. Together they fused their talents to bring HADESTOWN to life on stage. After several workshops, Mitchell took the score to California to do a workshop version of “Sing Hadestown” around the area. It was while doing of these performances that Producer Dale Franzen was in attendance and immediately fell in love with the score. She soon came on board as a Producer of HADESTOWN.

But then came a major obstacle that Mitchell had to confront in 2012. HADESTOWN finally made it to New York for its first off-off Broadway workshop. However, it was crystal clear the Director Ben Matchstick had a completely different vision of the piece than Mitchell did, and it showed on stage. Producer Franzen had the challenging task to tell Mitchell that she to let go of Matchstick as Director if the show had any chance of making it to the Great White Way, if not, she will have to bow out as Producer. Mitchell with a heavy heart broke the news to Matchstick.

With a new director, Rachel Chavkin, on board, both women went back to the material and started fresh. There was a New York Theatre Workshop in May 2016, then came new, revised productions in Edmonton and London. The crucial issues they kept having with the material was the book and the character of Orpheus. Mitchell kept hitting the brick walls of creativity in fleshing out a strong, solid book that had emotional strength to connect to her songs and lyrics. As for the character Orpheus, in earlier versions he came off cocky, unsympathetic to the audience. In other workshop runs he simply didn’t hold his own emotional weight among the other characters. The closest they got to hitting success was during the New York workshop run with Damon Daunno in the role. He was sexy, smoldering and gave Orpheus huge stage presence that finally made the audience cheer for him. But when it came to transfer to Broadway, Daunno was already in another show and could not join the company. After a lengthy search they found Reeve Carney (his first role since originating the lead in SPIDER MAN-TURN OFF THE DARK).

At the 73rd Tony Awards HADESTOWN earned 14 nominations, winning 8, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Director.

Interesting fact here: I mentioned Damon Daunno earlier for this interesting backstage fact- the show he was already cast in on Broadway which caused him to decline the offer to repeat his role in HADESTOWN was the OKLAHOMA revival, which was nominated for (and won) Best Revival. Daunno did receive a Best Actor nod for portraying “Curly.” Sadly, Carney did not receive a nomination for his performance in HADESTOWN.

Now HADESTOWN has finally gone on tour, after it was delayed in 2020 thanks to this friggin pandemic. Ironically as the cold, bitter winds blew around the Winspear Opera House outside, we sat down inside for this company to take us into a new vision a Greek myth set to music.

Mitchell’s score is a synthesis of Jazz, folk, Americana, and pop. It is a lush, soothing, and emotionally moving score when it comes to the ballads. The compositions are bathed with sublime lyrics that give not only solid subtext but smashing character development. There are not that many up-tempo numbers with the bountiful score, but those that do exist in the piece are fulfilling. Such as “Road to Hell”, “Our Lady of the Underground”, “Chant,” and “Why We Build the Wall.”

When the number “Why We Build the Wall” is sung by Hades (dressed in a pin stripped suit, silver button down shirt, and tie). I am sure it is not visible to some in the audience, but on his left lower arm Hades (Kevyn Morrow) has a tattoo of row after row of tiny squares that resemble bricks! The god of the Underworld has a tattoo of his sickening wall! Now I don’t know if in fact that was what it is supposed to resemble or if it’s part of something else, we cannot see. Regardless, I loved it!

The workers, dressed in dirty, grimy oil-soaked rubber like uniforms, boots, and goggles, sing these lyrics: “How does the wall keep us free? / The wall keeps out the enemy / And we build the wall to keep us free / That's why we build the wall / We build the wall to keep us free.”

One of Hades lyrics goes like this: “Because we have, and they have not / Because they want what we have got”

Hades sings from his loft above the workers (Or are they the lower class? Slaves? Immigrants?). The staging and lighting for this number is fascinating and layered with dark subtext that makes you think on several levels of what Mitchell and Chavkin created here and are telling the audience to see within their art.

BUT…before you go all cray cray, here is one incredible fact. Mitchell wrote this song back in 2006, it was one of the very first songs she composed for the score, WAY before all “that” all happened, and “he” arrived in the political arena. Talk about bone chilling foreshadowing! So, as you enjoy this musical number, see how it fits within the context of the Greek myth, within the HADESTOWN storyline, and what happened during that “wall” nightmare, and you walk into the Winspear lobby with your mind blown away trying to fit all the pieces along with the subtext! It’s that damn good!

Rachel Hauck’s imposing set design is a marvel because of how she clearly dissected every lyric and line of the musical’s book to create her set, with the end result one you have of the most emotionally visual sets I have seen in years. Because of my seat I was able to really observe several intimate moments of how set, light, music, and actor all unite to create this art of musical theater that I love and admire so much. Ms. Hauck truly earned her Tony Award for this set!

When you arrive, it looks like a two-level disintegrating New Orleans Jazz joint. But as the musical comes to life on stage, the set becomes a living, breathing creature on its own. You notice that where the band resides, those stairs are actually framed to symbolize a Greek Amphitheatre, the walls are not just wood, but also granite, like the stones that create the temples of Zeus, Apollo (who is Orpheus’s father). Center stage is a turntable that is used in remarkable visual ways in regard to staging and choreography. There are several key scenes that are blocked and staged so perfectly with that turntable that provided touching, moving visuals, or striking moments. This design is just for the upper ground (i.e., earth). What Hauck designed for the Underworld, and how she takes the audience into Hade’s kingdom is JAW DROPPING amazing! I will leave it there. You just have to sit back and let your eyes and ears take it all in!

The lighting design by Bradley King is lavish, epic, and out of this world splendid! Remember I mentioned earlier the comment about the lights over Mitchell’s head floating above her in the dark? What King creates will leave you flabbergasted. I began to think of how the actual journey of our two lovers back to the upper ground from Hell will look like on the stage in front me. Intertwining Hauck’s set and King’s lighting it is a visual that just floored me. Sitting so close it gave me goosebumps because of how it transformed and whispered into place. The way the lamps that the fates were holding magically lit up right when they came into the light was eerily incredible! King’s lighting for Hade’s oil, rusted, grimy kingdom was slathered in hues of copper, or at times in blood red. The sequence when Orpheus fights with the soulless oil workers, King’s lighting actually makes you-the audience- feel those punches. From beginning to end his work just leaves you overwhelmed and dazzled by his talents.

Rachel Chavkin’s direction is sublime from the first note played on stage to the final moment. She scrutinized every lyric of the score and analyzed the book over and over. The staging, blocking, and how she directed her actors shows how invested and knowledgeable she was with the material, its history, and subtext. She knew where some moments required not some massive explosion of special effects, lighting, or smoke. She instead made that power come from her staging and actors. Those moments were some of the best scenes of the entire evening. When the whole company is on stage, watch how she directed them. Look at their motivation, their subtext, and the character choices for their purpose. It is so evident this is where the director and actor played in the sandbox of artistry, and to observe the finish product is spectacular and breathtaking. Chavkin also worked so incredibly close with the composer and designers to make sure that the intimate moments were not lost within the magic. They were not, they in fact got enhanced! This is not some big, splashy, glittery musical (which I am addicted to). But I also crave so dearly for these kind of musicals as well. Where character development, subtext, and raw nakedness of the company’s acting talents are the main focus. Chavkin’s direction earned her the Tony award for Best Director, you can see why when you watch HADESTOWN.

The HADESTOWN company is overflowing with sensational talent!

The “Greek chorus” for HADESTOWN are now termed “workers.” It’s never defined exactly where and what kind of factory they work at, or what they are manufacturing. Going by what they are wearing, it looks like oil or coal. Nonetheless this quintet of imposing triple talents all evening long provided flawless commentary with their facial expressions, body movements, vocals, acting craft, and the execution of the choreography. I would watch them in some scenes to see how they reacted to what was occurring before them, and it was riveting. Their facial expressions were honest and so in the moment. You could clearly see this was NOT the dreaded, lazy instructions of, “okay stand here and just mumble something.” Each worker had a different point of view, and some had a facial expression that was disturbing- in an effective way- to make the scene even more intense. That’s how powerful this ensemble is. Wearing those slick, rubber looking uniforms and bathed in all that talent in this Greek chorus are Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, and Jamari Johnson Williams.

Morgan Siobhan Green portrays Eurydice. In Greek mythology she was a nymph who on her wedding day (to Orpheus) was bitten by a viper, died, and was sent to the Underworld. In Mitchell’s world, she is a realist and a survivor in this post-apocalyptic world. There is a hint that she is a runaway, but we are never told from what. She is the only “human” so to speak within the entire company. Green is sublime in the role. Her soprano voice is pristine with polish finesse, it has a pop gloss but dipped in soul warmth. Her diction was peerless. When Green aka Eurydice first meets Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), they come face to face and stay that way as the rest of the company sings. My eyes stayed on them, their subtext and facial expressions was so organic and beautiful. These two sincerely ebbed that moment of first reaction of attraction, your heart stops, the world swirls around them. It was a beautiful, intimate moment that deeply touches you. Bravo to both actors. Some of Green’s finest vocal numbers include, "Any Way The Wind Blows” “promises” and “Flowers.”

Ms. Green and Mr. Barasch had one of the BEST numbers of the entire evening with “All I've Ever Known". The incredibly alluring and sensual choreography by David Neumann combined with the lighting, score, vocals, and the blazing talents of these two intense talents, this duet was erotic and so romantic on so many levels. The way their bodies moved, intertwined, and glided softly to the floor; it was all done with intense commitment. Their facial expressions to each other said so much. It was a duet that stayed with me past curtain call.

Kevyn Morrow as Hades possesses deep bass vocals that would make Barry White think he’s singing tenor if he were next to Morrow! Morrow knows how to make his instrument become sensual and hypnotic in one musical number like “Hey Little Songbird,” but then dark, sinister, and dangerous in another song like “Why We Build That Wall.” As stated earlier I don’t know if it was Mr. Morrow’s idea, or if he already had it, but the brick wall tattoo sleeve on his left arm was a stroke of genius in the character development department. I mean how demented, and disgusting is the lord of the Underworld to have ink painted on him to symbolize this “thing” that has divided the living and dead, how it has changed the definition and meaning of freedom, of life. When Morrow/Hades first flashed it, you could tell how many of us in the audience caught it and gasped in shock. Brilliant! Morrow does not stay only in the nefarious lane with his character. In Act II when Orpheus finally finds his wife in the sweaty, disgusting underworld, what transpires in that scene with Hades (wont spoil it for you), Morrow with his electrifying stage presence sheds the machismo of Hades facade and displays both with his subtext and body a humanized god who remembers who he was in the past with Persephone. It is a powerful moment because of Morrow’s choices within his acting and character choices are utterly remarkable!

Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET) portrays Hermes, the herald of the gods. He is the protector of human heralds, travelers, thieves, merchants, and orators. He is a god that is able to move fast and freely between the upper and underworlds. He also is the guide of the souls who are taken to the Underworld. Finally, Hermes is a messenger of the gods. In HADESTOWN, Hermes is our narrator as he leads us through the story. He also is Orpheus’s guardian. Kreis gives the messenger god a vibrant New Orleans dialect, a laid-back attitude, a man who would buy everyone a round. Kreis has a terrific, scratchy Southern laced baritone voice that wrapped around his songs like a great bottle of whiskey. His energy was like saltwater taffy, it stuck on you, and it is so delicious! His stage presence was on full tilt, never once dimming. Kreis connected with every single cast member which showed unity that ebbed past the stage lights. Kreis had some imposing musical numbers that made them showstoppers, such as “Road to Hell,” “Way Down Hadestown,” “Wind Theme,” and “Wait for Me.” He was hugely impressive.

There were three performances that for me stood out so much that they left me spellbound.

Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus delivered an unparalleled performance. In the myth Orpheus played a lyre and had a beautiful singing voice that could make humans swoon, tame Cerberus, the three headed dog who guarded the underworld, and even Hades. In Mitchell’s HADESTOWN. Orpheus is dressed like he works in the kitchen or at least in some diner. Instead of a lyre, he plays an electric guitar. But he does possess a ravishing tenor singing voice. It was a very smart and wise idea to cast Barasch with his red hair, innocent sweet face, and those expressive eyes. He gave Orpheus this aura of all is good on this earth and mankind, he just wants to find love. Thus, when tragedy and the reality of death and the underworld bleeds into his life, Barasch’s acting choices are so powerful and layered with rich subtext and organic reality. Watching his facial expressions or when he broke into tears in trying to save his wife or persuade the lord of the Underworld to see his reasoning of why he should be allowed to take his wife back to the living, it was gut wrenching to watch. It just tore your heart to pieces. You honestly could feel Orpheus’s pain, fear, and heartache. Then there’s his vocals! Barasch possesses an incredible, out of this world vocal range. He has to sing a lot of his music in his head voice, because his music is composed for a tenor I. He sings in full head voice with an iron clad vibrato underneath it. When he goes from tenor straight to head voice, there was no break, no crack, no wonky vocal shift within his vocals to get there, he simply gets there with clear as glass musicianship. By the end of the evening his voice was still as strong as it was in Act I! I was astonished by his gorgeous, impeccable vocals. His acting craft was just as extraordinary as his singing voice. His subtext was so incredibly vivid all evening long, you could see and feel what was beating in that heart of this “mortal” who worked in the kitchen of the Jazz joint. His work with Morgan Siobhan Green (Eurydice) is outstanding in every scene and musical number they had. Barasch just digs deep into his characterization and brings to life an innocent half mortal/half god that we the audience so deeply care and root for.

Kimberly Marable as Persephone is a tornado of sex appeal, sass, and fierce goddess all wrapped in a green cocktail dress. Ms. Marable physically looks like a young Diana Ross with the va-va-voom of Jennifer Lopez, and the attitude of Lizzo and Pink! Marable’s facial expressions are priceless! Watch her beautiful face and those incredible eyes go to work with her two big numbers "Living It Up On Top" and "Our Lady of the Underground". She devours these two numbers like a majestic Lioness feasting on her fresh kill. Her stage presence is mesmeric to say the least. But observe her acting choices in several key scenes, especially in Act II, they will put a lump in your throat. Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. While on earth she was kidnapped by Hades (he fell in love with her) and he brought her to the Underworld where she became his wife and the queen. However, she was allowed to return back to the upper ground every six months. Thus, the birth of the seasons came to be. Winter and Fall she is in the Underworld, Summer, and Spring she is back on earth. In Michell’s HADESTOWN, listen closely in Act I when Orpheus says, “He is here too early. Why?” That is MAJOR foreshadowing! Marable is a major scene stealer, her two big numbers stop the show, but also watch what she does in Act II, it will break your heart.

Finally, we have the Fates. These are three goddesses whose task is to make sure a mortal lives the life they are supposed to live according to their destiny. They comment on what is happening on stage, but they never choose sides. They only make sure each life follows the path that has been created for them. In HADESTOWN, they are played by three tour de force powerhouse talented women- Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne. All three women play an instrument on stage! Then they sing in luxurious three-part harmonies that fill the Winspear Opera House with glorious vocals. You can clearly hear each voice (Soprano, mezzo, contralto). All three actresses provide solid, fantastic acting chops to back up those soaring harmonies. Throughout the piece they weave in and out, speaking to the characters or to the audience, giving reasoning or facts- always making sure they stay on their appointed path. In the scene when Eurydice leaves for Hadestown, the Fates looked out into the audience and told us not to judge her. Just because it is so easy to have principles when you belly is full and financially secure, but it would be a whole different story if we were the one who was broke and starving to death. These three women were so exciting, and you couldn’t get enough of them!

HADESTOWN ends with a scene that grips your heart. But the way it has been directed, staged, lit, and that remarkable cast you can feel your heart tighten. As Hermes softly says with a lump in his throat, “Alright.” Then you realize what it means, and you are even more moved by what it symbolizes and defines not only within the musical, but within us.

This is a touring production you are required to see. This is not a musical with jazz hands, loud banging music, kiddies tap dancing. This is a haunting, marvelous, dark, and remarkable musical that ebbs subtext within its score, design elements, and performances. You will never see it done like this ever again. I can promise you that. You MUST see this touring production to see how the original production looks, sung, and felt like. You will sorely regret missing this production. HADESTOWN reminds you how much you love, respect, and most of all- missed the art of musical theater.