Anaïs Mitchell’s musical “Hadestown” invites us in with a beautiful set reminiscent of New Orleans, then entices with a fabulous seven-member orchestra flanking the stage. But it’s the incredible voices of the cast that ultimately transport us to a mythic landscape both ancient and modern.
With an alchemical blend of inspired music and lyrics, a stellar cast tightly choreographed on a warmly intimate set, and an eternal story given new life and depth, “Hadestown” reaches through the emotions and into the soul.
Sharply dressed in a silvery vest, the Greek god Hermes (Levi Kreis) introduces us to the musical’s age-old tale of love in the underworld with humor, bravado and a striking tenor voice. His song “Road to Hell”—accompanied by the three Fates (Bélen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne)—invokes the story’s crossroads setting between earthly “Livin’ It Up On Top” and “Way Down Hadestown” below.
Up top on earth, we hear Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) in a large overcoat over a slinky black dress intoning her hunger pangs with earthy richness in “Any Way the Wind Blows,” followed by the soul-stirring alto tenor of penniless poet Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) calling her to “Come Home With Me,” humorously having fallen instantly in love.
But while Orpheus works on a lovely vocal “Epic” to restore spring to earth while goddess Persephone is in the underworld, he can’t feed Eurydice, much less cater a wedding banquet, until it is done.
Persephone (Kimberly Marable) here is not the helpless girl of myth but rather a full-grown wife of underworld god Hades in a bright green satin dress (costumes by Michael Krass) making her own choices of when she comes and goes—with attitude. Marable delightfully captures Persephone’s strength through her expressive voice and sassy movement, swinging a gorgeous mane (hair design by Jennifer Mullins) as “Our Lady of the Underground.”
But we discern tension in Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone’s marriage, especially after Eurydice catches Hades’ eye and Morrow’s commanding bass lures her to his underworld in “Hey, Little Songbird.” Though Orpheus implores Eurydice to “Wait For Me”—a glorious ensemble number—she consigns herself to Hell in order to eat.
The emotionally resonant “Wait For Me” sounds like it should end Act I, but instead—like a dark and deep undercurrent from below—we get Hades’ equally poignant “Why We Build the Wall,” mapping onto the myth a more modern story of separating haves and have-nots with literal and figurative barriers designed to somehow preserve “freedom.”
This is because Hades’ underground domain includes the wealth of oil. And the train connecting worlds above and below evokes the Undergrown Railroad allowing the enslaved to escape. The second half finds Eurydice joining a chorus of six Workers (Jordan Bollwerk, Lindsey Hailes, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodríguez, Jamari Johnson Williams and Marquis Wood) blindly producing, slowly forgetting their pasts and keeping their heads down in order to keep their heads, as per one of their songs.
That commentary on the human costs of capitalism works surprisingly well in the context of the myth, woven into its implicit themes of loss, memory, identity—and faith. Orpheus’s spiritually arduous journey orchestrated by Hermes to save Eurydice requires the young lover to not only fully trust the god but fully believe in himself. Who among us is up to that task? Like all myths, this is a fundamentally human story which, as Hermes sings, we must keep telling.
And Mitchell’s way of telling it through her nearly 30 lyrical and harmonic songs is emotionally spellbinding, especially as performed by this talented, energetic cast. Rachel Chavkin expertly directs—with choreography by David Neumann, dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia and Nathan Koci’s music direction—all on Rachel Hauck’s well-designed set enhanced by Bradley King’s dynamic lighting. The alchemical blending of these theatrical elements is itself the stuff of myth, allowing an ancient story to magically transcend from the stage to the soul. A must-see experience!
“Hadestown” continues at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, through Aug. 21, with performances Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $136 and can be purchased online at SCFTA.org or by calling the box office at (714) 556-2787. Masks are optional. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes plus intermission.