SALT LAKE CITY — The musical Hadestown, with music, lyrics, and book by Anais Mitchell, opened on Broadway in March of 2019 with a pre-Broadway life in London and Off-Broadway. Directed by and developed with Rachel Chavkin, the show combines the Greek myths of Orpheus and Euridyce and Hades and Persephone, and add the flair of New Orleans Jazz music.
This synopsis is perhaps an oversimplification, but there is a lot to tell and not enough time. I read a review of the tour earlier this year where the critic was complaining of the book, and the choice that Orpheus makes at the end. While I do not expect everyone to be a Greek myth expert, please understand that Mitchell did not make up the choices of Orpheus, and if audience members are upset by the plot lines, take it up with the ancient Greeks.
Having had the immense privilege of seeing this show twice on Broadway, one of the benefits of reviewing the touring production is seeing new aspects. One of the best elements of Hadestown is the music. The Eccles Theatre, being a newer venue, has one of the best sound systems in the industry, and Hadestown was able to show this to its best. Sound designers Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz are at their best here, and really help the musicians shine. And none of them exemplified this as well as trombonist Emily Fredrickson, whose talents are commendable. In one song in particular, she left her seat on the stage and started dancing with the cast. I cannot imagine the level of skill it takes to dance and play a brass instrument.
All of the musicians in the orchestra are on stage, except the drummer in this tour because of a limitation with the stage that was the one element that I missed from the Broadway production, where the center stage could sink. I did like the way the set designer, Rachel Huack, had made up for it, and feel the work around is fine, but did feel a small sense of loss.
The technical work in this production is simply genius. In the number “Wait for Me,” the set design, lighting design (by Bradley King), and music direction (by Nathan Koci) all come together in an innovative way that is the perfect visualization of everything that theatre can be. In this production in particular, Orpheus (played by Chibueze Ihuoma) truly blew me away. Orpheus has melodies that go up into the high rafters of the male range, and I have not been able to hear a man sing this way in recent memory with such power and strength. Additionally, Ihuoma brought an innocence to the character, and the combination of his superb acting and singing hooked me.
Morgan Siobhan Green as Euridyce added a bit of attitude and spice to her character, which was fun and different. Green was one of several actors who impressively gave their own interpretation of their character and avoided copying the Broadway performance. One who also did this well was Levi Kreis as Hermes. Andre De Shields has truly owned this character on Broadway, so stepping into the role has got to be daunting. I was pleased to see Kreis take it in a different but good direction, making Hermes more of a young jazz star than a friendly grandpa. It worked, and I am glad it did.
In the beginning of the show, Hermes introduces the ensemble as the hardest working chorus in the God’s almighty world. There is no doubt that this is truth. Watching the full ensemble at the Eccles took my breath away more than once. When I first saw Hadestown in early 2020, I told someone it may have been the best thing I had seen in two decades, and I stand by that statement with this touring production. It is nice to see that something with music and writing so strong can stay this strong, whether the cast is on Broadway or touring.
One of the running themes through the show is that the character of Orpheus sees the world the way it could be, in spite of the way that it is. The diverse casting of Hadestown is an example of that. I have seen ensemble and lead characters all cast differently in each production — and all done well. It is truly the Broadway that we want it to be, in spite of the way that it is.
I keep writing at length to praise other elements of Hadestown that I admire: the strong harmonies of the Fates (played by Belen Moyano, Bex Orodisio, and one of the great understudies Lindey Hailes that has held the industry over the pandemic), the fantastic costumes that hold layers of themes by designer Michael Krass, and more. Mostly, I love that the final theme — that it is a sad song, but we sing it anyway — holds such resonance for me and those who work hard to understand the story. Hadestown is not a sweet, candylike story. It takes a lot to process, just like the tragedies that many go through in life. However, just as the cast sings at the very end (and audiences should stay to the very end of the current call — do not rush to your car), “Some flowers bloom where the green grass grows. Our praise is not for them. But the ones who bloom in the bitter snow. We raise our cups to them.” As a critic, I raise my cup to the creators, cast, and crew of Hadestown for a job well done.