Hadestown: Mythology, music, love, and a ‘Road to Hell!’
The 8x Tony Award-winning show from Anaïs Mitchell, steeped in Greek mythology, took Broadway by storm in 2019. Everyone overestimates the ability to recall their education about the gods and goddesses, messengers, clouds, and netherworlds from middle school. (I SURE DID!) That fact aside, the near-capacity crowd at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theater on Wednesday night still had an amazing time. Hadestownis a wonderful mix of originality and classic mythology. The story in itself is wonderful, but it’s the music that keeps you engaged. (If you have never heard a proper trombone solo, you will!)
The story is narrated by Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham). The accomplished actor boasts an impressive resume but none of his roles will ever be more important in this reviewer’s mind than his 2006 appearance on an episode of Scrubs. Hermes sets the tone and expectations, taking the audience through a New Orleans-styled jazz club and introducing each of the cast members in the opening song, including the instrumentalists on the stage. Having a band on the stage that works itself into the performance is always fascinating. Hadestown’s talented musicians are no exception. The live singing and dancing are complimented beautifully by the band members, who are working every bit as hard and are every bit as talented as the show’s leads.
The story is that of two youths, Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) and Eurydice (Twinsburg, Ohio native Hannah Whitley) in love. Orpheus, in the show, is a young singer-songwriter, which allows Chibueze’s talent to shine throughout the whole performance as he plays guitar and sings in a very challenging falsetto register for much of the night
As the story unfolds, the pair goes from people in love to people in desperate need of help as winter surges upon them. Orpheus fixates on finishing his song that will summon the return of Spring, so much so that he fails to notice the desperation Eurydice faces. That desperation will lead her to catch a train that most souls only ride once.
The core of the musical also shares the story and struggles of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) and Persephone (Brit West). More of said couple’s story is revealed during “Epic 1,’” (performed masterfully by Ihuoma). Persephone gets to live in the world above during the warm weather months, (“Livin’ it Up on Top,’“) but Hades (being the god of the underworld, in case your seventh-grade flashbacks are lagging), comes and collects Persephone early and brings her back down to Hadestown, bringing winter yet again to those above ground. While there are hints of a romantic past, Persephone dreads the arrival of the train to take her away.
The combined story music and lyrics are from mastermind Anaïs Mitchell; EIGHT Tony Awards ain’t a bad start for this show’s playwright! The play is directed by Tony award-winner Rachel Chavkin. Music Supervisor Liam Robinson is credited with the stunning vocal arrangements. I’d love to see this trio team up on another show.
The entire music ensemble was incredible, but a standing ovation is in order for Emily Fredrickson, the trombone player who showcased her talent and charism to WOW the audience.
It can be challenging to take the music of a single set and keep it interesting. With only one large-scale movement in which the set moves apart as we reach the gates of hell, we spend the whole time with the band and stage set pretty consistently throughout. Rachel Hauck, the Scenic Designer, found a way to keep the focus on the performance while still making a clear separation between life up top and the underworld down below. The rotating stage allows the audience to walk with the characters and maybe, if we dare, look back at the journey taken.
I’d be remiss to pass over the fact that two of the show’s shining stars hail from Northeast Ohio.
Eurydice, Hannah Whitley, is a 2018 graduate of Twinsburg High School, returning ‘home’ to perform at Cleveland’s prized Playhouse square! (What were you doing five years post-graduating high school?) We also had the privilege of talking with Nyla Watson, who plays one of The Fates, about her return to her hometown.
It seems every time a new show comes to town, a Cleveland-bred star is in tow. Baldwin Wallace graduates Warren Egypt Franklin, who played Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in ‘Hamilton’ during a December/January run, and Lee N Price from Beetlejuice also starred at Playhouse Square recently. We can’t wait to see what friendly faces are coming to town next.