by Lynn on July 17, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until August. 20, 2023.

Music, lyrics and book by Anaȉs Mitchell

Directed by Rachel Chavkin

Choreography by David Neumann

Scenic design by Rachel Hauck

Costumes by Michael Krass

Lighting by Bradley King

Co-sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz

Arrangements and orchestrations, Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose

Cast: Nathan Lee Graham

Dominique Kempf

Belén Moyano

Maria-Christina Oliveras

Matthew Patrick Quinn

J. Antonio Rodriguez

Nyla Watson

Hannah Whitley

A mashup of two Greek myths about tenacity, faith, loyalty, longing, hope and love.

First some background. Hadestown is based on the 2010 concept album of Anaȉs Mitchell who then expanded it into the musical for which she wrote the music, lyrics and book.It was performed first off-Broadway, then at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, then in London, England at the National Theatre and then Broadway in 2019.It won eight Tony awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Director.

The Story and production.  Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham) is our narrator and introduces the characters. Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) is waif-like, poor, hungry and cold. Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) is a simple man, a musician, poet and intensely optimistic, almost innocently so. He sees Eurydice and falls in love with her and wants to marry her. He says he’s working on a perfect song that will bring spring again and prosperity.

Meanwhile in Hadestown….the underworld, we have Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), the King of the Underworld and his wife Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras). While visiting the above world Hades saw Persephone picking flowers and fell in love with her and wanted her to come live with him in the underworld.  She agreed but said that she needed to live in the above world as well. It was decided she would spend six months in the above world where she would bring spring, vegetation and plenty, and six months in the underworld with Hades, where it would be winter in the above world.

Persephone was getting ready to go to the above world—she had her bright colours on, her handbag with stickers of fruit and flowers–and was on her way. It was party-time when she arrived in the above world and they sang and danced at her arrival because now it meant it would be spring, and warm and plentiful.

But after a short time Hades came and got her—before the six months were up…He says “I missed ya.” As Hades, Matthew Patrick Quinn is imposing in his beautifully tailored suit, vest, tie and what looks like snake-skin shoes. Everything about him, from his bass voice to his grey streaked hair and beard, oozes power. He talks slowly and deliberately and it all defines ‘formidable.’

So Hades brought Persephone back to Hadestown and the place was changed. First of all, it was hot down there, because Hades had created a factory that made stuff, with a workforce that worked 24/7. And it was blazing bright down there too….with the electricity needed to build this industry. Hades said he was building walls to keep poverty out. He also had a workforce that was numbed and blank-eyed. Hades saw to that. The spirit had been ground out of the people he now used as slaves.

As for Orpheus and Eurydice they fall in love and it’s fine as long as it’s spring and summer. Eurydice is intrigued by the underworld, and certainly with the charismatic Hades. But when Persephone leaves it becomes winter again, and food is scarce and so is warmth. Hades and Persephone argue about the industry of the factory and Hades leaves to find another person who would look up to him. That turns out to be Eurydice. She follows Hades to the underworld on the promise of warmth and food.  But she is sucked into the world of work and possibly some other kind of relationship with Hades.

Orpheus finishes his song and goes to get Eurydice back. Hades won’t let her go. Orpheus sings his song to Hades which is about Hades and Persephone and how they did love each other once. Hades is moved by the song and let’s Orpheus and Eurydice go. But there is a condition. Orpheus has to lead the way and Eurydice has to follow. If Orpheus turns around to see if she is there, he would lose her forever. Orpheus thought this was a trick. As Hermes said, ‘It’s not a trick it’s a test.  We know what happens: doubt, uncertainty,

I love the piece. I love the smart story-telling of Anaȉs Mitchell to blend the mythic world with the modern world. Her music is beautiful, ethereal, otherworldly and her lyrics are sublime. 

The director Rachel Chavkin’s productions are very physical and Hadestown is no different. Not only is there a swirl of activity with her cast but the band is front and center on stage and they are incorporated into the action. Emily Fredrickson on trombone is particularly lively.

Rachel Chavkin keeps the action focused and never confusing. She has a keen eye for the dramatic image and Hadestown is full of them. The beaten-down workforce are bent over with the drudge work as they form a circle of soul-less souls in David Neumann’s choreography. Characters appear and disappear in a section of the set in which two heavy walls rise up and lower down encasing them in or letting them out. Hades stands at a high perch overlooking his domain.

Hadestown has one foot in the mythic world and one in the modern world. I love that nonchalant introduction to industry that uses people as slaves for want of a better word—working long hours with no relief. These workers had their hopes and dreams dashed out of them for the sake of commercialization and corporate greed. Hades said he was building walls to keep poverty out….sure while building his own fortune…he had no use for spring, summer or flowers as long as he could make money and build an empire.  The show melds myth with loyalty, devotion, trust and the power of love.

Again because of Rachel Chavkin’s vision there is a terrific elegance to the piece: Hermes and Hades are mesmerizing in their form-fitted suits suggesting style, power and confidence.

And while I loved the piece as a whole some of the performances made my eyebrows knit. Some of the cast do what I call semaphore acting—arms waving broadly to over-emphasize a point, big actions. I wanted to tell Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes, to stop flapping your lapels to make a point. You won us over when you strutted on. Stop working that hard to get our attention. Tone it down and let the audience come to you.

Maria-Christina Oliveras is a fine Persephone—strong voice and expressive. But again, big movements. You have the audience already. Again, tone it down.

Hannah Whitley as Eurydice has a wonderful waif-like look, a strong voice but an absolute aversion to consonants. I almost never heard one in her lyrics fully and properly because she did not say them crisply. The result were songs full of a blur of slurred words. The lyrics are important, ‘snap’ those consonants please.

As Orpheus J. Antonio Rodriguez is wonderful, sweet-voiced and engaging. He conveys that innocence effortlessly and he certainly illuminates Orpheus’ uncertainty at the end—“Is Eurydice following behind me?” Loved that heightened emotion. As Hades, Matthew Patrick Quinn is terrific. He is an imposing presence on that stage. That and his bass voice just grabs you.

The Fates: Dominique Kempf, Belén Moyano and Nyla Watson are sassy, irreverent and are both individual in their assessment of a situation and cohesive in their performances. Wonderful work.

So I liked it as a whole, but some parts knitted my eyebrows.

Presented by Mirvish Productions:

Runs until August 20, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)

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