Some reviews should be simple. Direct. Succinct. They should be allowed to be that way because some shows are just that good. Hadestown is one of those shows. It should be as easy to express as telling a friend to run down to Hadestown. Make the journey as many times as you can. Tell them there’s magic occurring nightly at the Walter Kerr Theatre and that magic is a palpable mix of so many creative energies that you can’t help but be affected and influenced by the sheer force of its powerful storytelling. There is simply nothing quite like it and it will stand alone for a long time to come.
Hadestown is a deliciously creative gumbo, almost thirteen years in the making. Its history is slowly becoming the stuff of legend. It began as a community theatre production. It then evolved into a concept album before turning back into a theatrical production. Off Broadway this time. It then ventured all the way to Canada and London to then eventually find its way back to our shores and to its current Broadway home. All the time changing, evolving, and simmering away. This dark roux was lovingly cared for and developed by both director Rachel Chavkin and musician, lyricist, and book writer Anais Mitchell and there is now proof positive that these two ladies can cook. Their recipe is simple yet complex. Their story is an old song made new again, and in a setting where gods and humans walk together, the Devil is most decidedly in the details.
The story is one part Greek myth in the form of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Lovers who find each other in a steamy post-apocalyptic world resembling New Orleans. As fast as they find each other, they are separated and Orpheus must make his way to the underworld to find his love and bring her back. Hadestown is not so much a book as it is a poem told in rhythm and rhyme. The pauses and breaths in the story matter. It’s the rhythm of a new classic being born. As Broadway shows seem to move faster and faster, as lyrics become machine gun fire, as music blows into the supersonic, and dance becomes more and more aerobic, Hadestown takes its time when it needs to and tells the story it means to tell.
The incomparable Andre De Shields is Hermes, our narrator and tour guide. His natural gravitas and alluring charm is essential to driving the story. Reeve Carney as Orpheus and Eva Noblezada as Eurydice are both sweet in nature and vocally beguiling to support the ill-fated lovers against the power of Hades, played with pure menace by Patrick Page, and the very sexy and life affirming Persephone delivered in a very nuanced and layered performance by the incomparable Amber Gray. Our journey through the underworld is also guided by the Fates played wonderfully by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzales-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad. All of this is equally supported by a hard working chorus that drives the imagination engine.
Overall, Hadestown has the feeling of a cultural happening. From its luscious jazz infused score rich in driving beats and blaring horns reminiscent of the back streets of the Louisiana bayou, to its onstage musicians, who by their very presence become just as important to the tale being told, this production has the feel of a festival with a lesson. Its settings are transformative. Its movement and choreography is evocative. Like a glorious New Orleans funeral procession the storytellers are the first line of the parade, the hosts of the event, and the audience is the second line, those who follow along celebrating the praises of the life that came before.
At this particular performance, at the crucial moment when Hades opens his hand and a red carnation of hope appears a good portion of the house sighed. At the critical moment when Orpheus turns a woman in the upper balcony cried out. This kind of cause and effect is what true theatre is all about. This kind of real theatre demands our attention and deserves all the accolades that can be bestowed upon it. You will laugh. You will cry. Your heart will soar and your mind will reel.
Until you go back home.
That’s when you’ll begin to want to return in earnest because Hadestown is meant to be felt more than once. It’s meant to be seen and heard again and again. It proves night after night that all good stories begin where they end and end where they start. Hadestown is that purely magical roundelay that will carry you up into its vortex and make you sing its praises. At its end you will genuinely stand and cheer because Hadestown is more than theatre. It’s an emotional phenomenon that represents storytelling at its finest. It’s the closest thing you’re going to find to pure theatrical magic.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a Drama Desk member. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 W 48th St
New York, NY 10036