If It's True... Hadestown is here till Sunday
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, June 3, 2022
A Grammy and eight Tony awards together garner a lot of hype; to no surprise, it was with palpable excitement (and a full house) that Hadestown rolled into town for its May 31-June 5 run at Broadway San Diego’s Civic Theatre. After all, the acclaimed new musical, written by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and directed by Rachel Chavkin, is one that draws a crowd.
Hadestown is a retelling of a Greek tragedy in which crooning lyre player Orpheus follows his wood nymph wife, Eurydice, to the underworld after her sudden death. When Orpheus encounters Hades, the lord of the underworld, he is able to, through the power of music, thaw Hades’ heart enough to coerce an offer for the lovers to leave together… but only if Orpheus leads Eurydice all the way home without looking back. In this rendition, Earth is a bar, hell is a factory filled with soulless workers, King Hades and Queen Persephone traverse a railway rather than the River Styx, and everyone sings folk, pop, Dixieland and blues. It’s a creative take, and one that adds a vibrancy to an age-old tale and doubly serves to open the door to allegory and social commentary which is at times powerful, but other times flawed.
This production, in the evening reviewed, was ably led by understudies Chibueze Ihuoma as Orpheus and Eddie Noel Rodríguez as Hermes. Both actors were outstanding: Rodríguez brings a sense of playfulness to his work as the show’s narrator, captivating the audience with his larger than life stage presence and weaving in and out of the tale with an at-times irreverent magnetism. Ihuoma, who steps into the shoes of Orpheus full time on June 14, is delightful. His tender, clear voice and wide-eyed naivete pull at the heartstrings and leave the audience rooting for his successes, even though the myth foretells that he is fated to fail. His duet choreography with Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green), crafted by David Neumann, is intimate and private and exquisitely executed. Green, too, is a standout, using every inch of her body to communicate the desperation of being in a world where the fates are out to get her. Green’s vocals are outstanding; her use of air as a tool - leaning into breath and pauses just as much as she caresses the seemingly effortless runs and riffs - is masterful. These three are joined onstage by powerful duo Kimberly Marable as Persephone and Kevyn Morrow as Hades and, rounding out the cast, Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne as the Fates and Lindsey Hailes, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, Jamari Johnson Williams, J. Antonio Rodriguez, Ian Coulter-Buford, Kimberly Immanuel, Alex Lugo, and Nathan Salstone as Workers Chorus and swings.
Framing the action, the compact, vertical Bourbon Street-esque set with integrated turntables by Rachel Hauck is a study in textures and inventiveness; it has a few surprises in store for audiences. It is beautifully lit by Bradley King via exposed circular truss and cleverly placed directional lights (and the infamous swinging lights!) in a way that is additive to the story being told; it is easy to see why these designers won their respective Tony Awards for Scenic and Lighting Design. And that band! Trombone/glockenspiel player Audrey Ochoa is a crowd favorite in the opening number even before she hits the dance floor, and her colleagues each have opportunities to shine throughout the score and take full advantage.
One thing Hadestown is known for is how it creates a space for social commentary (and condemnation, in turn), tackling a variety of heavy hitters in sequence such as climate change, collective bargaining, immigration, profiling, and others, making how the production is received by the audience infinitely more interesting. Violinist Maria Im shared in a chat-back after Wednesday night’s show that, from the band’s perspective, different audiences catch different themes each and every night and, separately, receive them differently depending on a variety of factors. This responsibility and privilege of how to open these conversations is worth a moment of consideration. And yet, while certainly not every topic can be tackled in every show, it would have been nice to see more agency for the female characters in this production. Eurydice’s only choice in Hadestown is to accept what she sees as the sole way out of a dire situation when she accepts a ticket to Hades. The Fates quickly call this out when they say, “you can have your principles when you’ve got a bellyful.” Similarly, Persephone’s life is controlled by the seasons and the whims of her overlord husband. While this victimhood may have been part of the original canon, if hell can be a factory with cars and simultaneously a mine, wasn’t there also an opportunity for the writer to put the storytelling in the hands of a different god(dess)? To give Eurydice and Persephone (and the talented actors who play them) more depth? This oversight takes the teeth away from some of the powerful moments of social commentary such as “Why We Build the Wall,” “Chant,” and “Chant (Reprise)”: it is simply a missed opportunity. As Orpheus says: “to the world we dream about and the one we live in now.” If only they were one and the same.
Hadestown is vibrant and lively - and worth a view… but deeper consideration and critique as well, perhaps. The show runs through the weekend with performances on Friday, June 3 (8 p.m.), Saturday, June 4 (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Sunday, June 5 (1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.). Tickets: https://www.broadwaysd.com/upcoming-events/hadestown/.