Review | Hadestown: one Hell of a show

Orpheum Theatre, through March 20

You don’t need to know the ancient myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, or Hades and Persephone, to appreciate Hadestown’s timeless tale of the woes of love. In fact, it might be better if you didn’t, opening the way to embrace its larger story of poverty vs. wealth, and caring for the earth vs. decimating its resources. The show, set in The Underworld, may be one giant metaphor, but it is quite literally, one helluva show.

Kimberly Marable appears as Persephone in the Broadway touring production of “Hadestown.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The audience at the Tony Award-winning show, which opened last night in downtown Minneapolis, already knew the songs, the schtick, the story, having no doubt followed the show’s progression from singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s concept album, to music, lyrics and bookwriter Mitchell’s Broadway success. It made for a celebratory atmosphere, to be sure.

I suspect it was Mitchell’s development partnership with director Rachel Chavkin that made this work as a dramatic piece, rather than a concert presentation. It still, however, maintains the dense and metaphorical lyrics of a thoughtful songwriter, which requires a commitment from the audience to pay attention. You’re not going to blitz through this story, interrupted by splashy dance numbers, as happens in much musical theater. Hadestown is more complex, and you’re going to have to wait for it. We are in Hell, after all.

But songwriters are good at this.

Orpheus is a struggling songwriter/poet with nothing to show for his efforts but an unfinished melody. The role, played by Chibueze Ihuoma, requires sustaining incredible falsetto range for much of the show. Ihuoma slipped on pitches a bit in Act I but showed a steadier performance all around in Act II. This is a young talent to watch.

Orpheus falls for a girl, the beautiful and desperately vulnerable Eurydice, played last night by Sydney Parra. The story follows the myth rather faithfully, with Parra charming Orpheus—and us, too—with her nimble improvisation and lovely voice.

Kevyn Morrow as Hades is diabolically gifted with a rolling baritone-bass voice and the perfectly understated performance of one who knows he’s in control. Persephone, by contrast, teeters on the edge of out-of-control, opening Act II and introducing the orchestra flat-out drunk. Kimberly Marable is absolutely marvelous in the role.

Hermes, played by Levi Kreis, serves as narrator and messenger (as Hermes would). Kreis is dashing in his silver suit (and “Hermes” knows it) effortlessly singing in multiple octaves.

The three Fates, played by Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne, work extremely well as a Greek chorus, of sorts, commenting, cajoling, questioning in perfect three-part harmony.

A Chorus of Workers, on stage throughout, add depth to the vocal harmonies and a powerful visual depiction of the hell that is forced labor.

The onstage (but for the drummer) band were active participants, and stars in their own right, delivering a beautifully arranged score, most notably because of its sensitivity to the precisely right use of instruments for its range of musical styles, from Dixieland, to blues, to contemporary singer/songwriter. I particularly loved this production’s use of acoustic instruments that made the tender ballads.

Although the show has a legitimate idea to incorporate a climate change theme, it didn’t quite land, because the lyrical references had to carry it all alone. Except for Persephone’s green dress vs. black and her basket of flowers, we didn’t see it. That would be enough in a simple production with little else to look at. But with a spectacular unit set outfitted with a hidden lift and revolve—simply dazzling under a sumptuous and ingenious lighting design—we were visually sated.

This is a songwriter show, replete with dense content. In a concert setting, one may catch every word. In a fully staged and choreographed musical, that’s not possible. So, instead of underscoring a more cosmic ruin than the lovers’ tragedy, the climate change theme feels more like a red herring, or at least tacked on. By Act II, we were far more invested in the personal stories, which were just plain easier to follow.

The production holds out for a final resolution as long as it possibly can – too long, in fact. But as the story wants to be thoroughly invested in the power of love to overcome by this point, perhaps there is the expectation that the audience will hold out, too, as long as it takes. In fact, the ending after the ending leaves us with an ambiguity I did not expect. Intentional? Or did the show’s creators have trouble cutting beautiful words and music carrying an even more beautiful idea? You decide. But once you choose the happiest ending, don’t turn around.

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