By Greta Flanagan
Hadestown is the hottest ticket on Broadway. The eight-time Tony Award Winning show finally took to the historic stage in New York in April of 2019 after nearly ten years of adaption. The Greek tragedy, written by Anais Mitchell, combines two myths, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, two young lovers separated by death, and Hades and Persephone, two Gods enduring a difficult and failing marriage. Hadestown beautifully entwines these stories, crediting Eurydice’s death to a storm brought on by the tensions between Hades and Persephone in the underworld.
I had the pleasure of seeing Hadestown for myself, and it truly exceeded all expectations. It was a surprise to see the orchestra on stage, rather than in a pit or below the stage. However, the musicians didn’t feel like eyesores. Rather, they were incorporated naturally into the scenery. In the song “Our Lady of the Underground,” Persephone, played by Amber Gray, introduces each of the band members in a drunken cheer. The Fates, played by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzales-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad, each incorporate their own instruments within the songs, in addition to singing. During “Livin’ it up on Top,” the trombone player, Brian Dryer, joins the dancers on the center stage.
Incredible music isn’t the only highlight of this Broadway show. Its characterization and storyline are impeccable. Orpheus is a poor poet with an awkward jitteriness and a powerful voice. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has an ability to see the world for what it could be, rather than for what it is. Eurydice, in comparison, is cynical; she understands that life is hard. She is described as “a runaway from everywhere she’s ever been,” and is drawn to Orpheus for the simple fact that she wants to feel alive. On the other hand, Hades is a tyrannical ruler set on keeping his workers in line with a false sense of freedom, as portrayed in the song “Why We Build the Wall.” His voice rumbles across the stage like thunder in comparison to the light lilts of Eurydice and Orpheus’ voices. Similarly, Persephone’s own voice is brash and growls when she sings. She’s a drunkard who’s upset with being taken back to the Underworld. Moreover, she’s angry at Hades’ bleak kingdom and harsh rulings.
This musical also digs into harsh themes, including the exploitation of workers, greed, and climate change. All of which are shown clearly through the transition from the overworld into Hadestown, an apocalyptic-esque town hellbent on forcing its rulers to continuously build a wall. The dead serve as Hades’ workers, and they’re lured into signing their life away with the promise of work. Instead, they are left spiritless and dull, left to work for all eternity in Hadestown. As sung by the Fates in mockery of Eurydice’s turmoil, “A lot of souls have gotta die / To keep the Rust Belt rollin’ / A lot of spirits gotta break / To make the underworld go ‘round.” Once Persephone, the goddess of spring, is brought into this working city resembling the mining industry, the overworld is plunged into a winter far too harsh to sustain anyone for long. It brings with it cruel storms that leave Orpheus and Eurydice impoverished. Even summers, which are far more joyous with Persephone once again over ground, are boiling in their heat. As sung by Eurydice in the song “Any Way the Wind Blows,” “The weather ain’t the way it was before / Ain’t no spring or fall at all anymore / It’s either blazing hot or freezing cold / Any way the wind blows.”
Hadestown is truly an experience that shouldn’t be missed, especially with the original cast still playing their respective characters. Beautifully written and beautifully sung, it is a true masterpiece among Broadway shows.