The hit “folk opera” Hadestown, a Broadway musical that retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in a Great Depression-like New Orleans setting, opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 17. The musical was written and composed by folk singer Anais Mitchell.
The love story of Orpheus and Eurydice intertwines with the crumbling relationship between Hades and Persephone, providing a contrast between modern and ancient, mortal and godly. Hermes acts as a narrator and guide to Orpheus, and the Fates, the deities in Greek mythology that were responsible for deciding who lives and who dies, are always fluttering about, driving the story and planting seeds of doubt and fear in the mortals’ minds.
In this retelling, the underworld is an underground factory known as Hadestown. Hermes remarks that everyone wants to go there, but “those who go, they don’t come back.” Meanwhile, up on top Orpheus and Eurydice meet and fall in love. As per the myth, Persephone is allowed to spend half of every year on the earth while the rest must be spent with her husband. When Persephone leaves Hadestown, she brings spring with her. However, Hades comes to bring her back to Hadestown too early, and a bitter winter returns.
Suffering in this brutal winter, Orpheus, the most gifted songwriter of his generation, works on a song “to bring the world back in tune”, while Eurydice searches for food and firewood unsuccessfully. Starving, the fates convince Eurydice to leave Earth and go to Hadestown in spite of her love for Orpheus. When Orpheus discovers where she has gone, he ventures to the underworld to bring her home.
The first song, “Build the Wall”, was written in 2006. By 2010, Mitchell had written a concept album, with herself as Eurydice, folk band Bon Iver’s lead vocalist Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Ani DiFranco as Persephone, and Greg Brown as Hades, among others. In 2016, the production premiered in the New York Theatre Workshop, and in 2017 the show was performed in the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Before it’s Broadway premiere, the show ran at the National Theatre on London’s West End from November 2018 to January 2019.
The show is directed by Rachel Chavkin, who formerly directed Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Reeve Carney stars as the kind-hearted Orpheus and Eva Noblezada stars as the tough Eurydice. Broadway veteran Andre DeShields guides Orpheus as the mischievous but well-intentioned Hermes. Amber Gray portrays the goddess Persephone as wild but wise and somber as soon as she steps foot in Hadestown. Patrick Page is everything you would imagine Hades to be, with a low, gravelly voice and a menacing stage presence.
The show received 14 Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Direction for Chavkin. Noblezada, Gray, Page, and DeShields all received nominations for their performance.
The show starts off with a warning, telling the audience that it’s a sad song, but they sing it anyway in the hope that the story will turn out differently. Despite many knowing the ending going in, as audiences were watching the show many were sure that it would not end that way. The story is presented so beautifully that, even though everything goes wrong, the audience can still believe that everything will turn out alright in the end.
Orpheus is presented as an awkward yet optimistic dreamer, and his hope is infectious to the other characters and the audience. Persephone is wild and fun to watch but provides grounding and humanity to the cold-hearted Hades, who is a commanding presence. Hadestown, an incredible retelling of a classic story, truly shows the audience how the world could be “in spite of the way that it is.”