What would you do for love? Would you go to Hell and back? Well, in this Grammy and Tony Award-Winning Musical that is exactly what happens. Anaïs Mitchell recreates the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus linking it with Hades and Persephone. These Greek Myths have many variations, but summarily it is about the love between a poor musician Orpheus and the beautiful Eurydice who he charms with his lyrical talents until she is smitten with him. She dances in the woodlands with nymphs and is bitten by a snake. This sends the lovely Eurydice to the underworld where the god Hades and his wife Persephone rule. Orpheus is determined to bring his love back with the beauty and eloquence of his music.
Anaïs Mitchell, named by her novelist professor father after the famous French-Cuban-American author Anaïs Nin, recreates the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus in a contemporary love-story setting. Apparently, Mitchell has the story-telling gene in her DNA. This Vermont-based singer, songwriter, playwright Mitchell in March 2010 through Righteous Babe Records released her fourth album Hadestown.
Mitchell had developed a preliminary storyline for Hadestown premiering in 2006-2007 in Vermont and then Massachusetts. She sought out Rachel Chavkin, Artistic Director for TEAM, who is widely acclaimed for directing Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812. Chavkin and Mitchel’s collaboration turned her concept album, by adding songs and dialogue, into an innovative, award-winning stage production. It premiered off-broadway in 2016 then toured through Edmonton, Canada and London. When it opened on Broadway in 2019 at the Walter Kerr Theatre Hadestown received 14 nominations for Tony Awards. It won eight awards including the two most prestigious Best Musical and Best Original Score.
When I first saw the preview videos for Hadestown on New York’s Broadway Theatre site I was intrigued and so eager to see it. After my family raved about it seeing it over Thanksgiving in New York City I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see it in Chicago on Opening Night. It was so good to see people out for a night of amazing live entertainment. On opening night the CIBC theatre was almost filled to capacity, over 1800 guests were present. My friend noticed many of the patrons were younger, hipper, more eclectic than those typically attending a Broadway in Chicago musical. I hope this is a sign of times to come.
Kudos to Rachel Hauck for her superb scenic design. The stage was set with a New Orleans’ Voodoo Vibe generating just the right tone for this fall to the underworld. Bradley King’s lighting design was imaginative and sets the moods of this musical perfectly using darkness, lights, and shadows exquisitely. Without a train coming down the tracks both the sound designers Kevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, and King’s lighting make the audience feel the train’s imminent arrival and departure. Michael Krass, the costume designer, dresses Hades as both a gangsta rapper and a wealthy businessman. Hermes’ costume is slick and Persephone is dressed as a dazzling New Orleans’ madam. I loved that the musicians are the stars on the stage who perform their music with high energy and brilliant talent.
The herald of the story Hermes, played by Levi Kreis, has both a melodic voice along with a charismatic commanding presence. He engages us immediately with his stylized strolling onto the stage. He entreats us to echo his “aw right, aw right drawl.” We do so with enthusiasm. He introduces himself and the other characters while setting the scene for this unfolding story.
Although Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus’s gift of music comes from the gods it does not rival the resonant rich deep soulful velvet voice of Kevyn Morrow as Hades. What shines through is Nicholas Barasch’s acting. He skillfully plays the love-stricken naive Orpheus who at first sight is determined to win over the sardonic Eurydice, Morgan Siobhan Green, with his lyrics and musical talents. She, to our comic delight, repeatedly rebuffs his awkward naive advances. She is a runaway who is scarred by the reality of extreme deprivation and poverty. Finally, as Kimberley Marable, Persphone, brings back spring and summer Eurydice gives in to Orpheus’s unrealistic promises, falling fast in love and agreeing to marry him. When winter and famine return she leaves her love, takes the train to Hadestown, and makes a deal with Hades for her soul.
Marable as Persephone rocks with a mesmerizing voice and seductive sensual moves that make you understand how Hades abducted and fell in love with his queen. The dancers are phenomenal. They are so joyful at times you want to leap up out of your seats and dance through the aisles. Please don’t. It is their talent that wows us. Hades’ fire, passion, and jealousy when Persephone leaves him for six months a year cause him to create an evil industrialized fiery complex with his burning passion. The dead faceless nameless souls he has collected relentlessly eternally struggle 24/7 to keep the hellfires burning and Hades in power and riches.
The three fates, Belén Moyano, Bex Odoriso and Shea Renne who have the most gorgeous voices and harmonies often tease and torment and decide the suffering for Orpheus and Eurydice since they ultimately control their destiny.
During intermission, I was able to ask several audience members their reactions to Act 1. Those patrons who were already familiar with the story raved how much they loved the musical. Audience members who were not familiar with the myth and storyline were admittedly clueless and confused. Prior knowledge seems to be key in audience appreciation. Page ten of the Playbill does provide a guide to the characters who inspired Hadestown. In Act two though all is revealed clearly.
At the Grammy Awards Presentation for Best Musical Theater Album 2020 Anaïs Mitchell closed her acceptance speech with these lyrics which define the value of this musical for our times. “Orpheus was a poor boy but he had a gift to give. There was one song he’d been working on. He could never finish the song about this broken world that he rewrote again and again, as though if he found the words, he could fix the world with them. Music has power. During these troubling times, we wish music had the power to make things right.
The historic 1906 originally named the Majestic Theatre is now the CIBC Theatre. CIBC is a Broadway in Chicago theatre which is part of the Nederlander Company. It is located at 18 West Monroe. Parking is available at 17 East Adams Street. For the safety of all patrons, staff, and performers the Coronavirus safety protocols are still in effect. Full proof of vaccination 14 days prior to attendance must be shown along with a valid identification card. You must be fully masked upon entering the theatre and remain masked throughout the performance.
Photos: Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson