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He Says: Hadestown Hits Hot and High Way Down Below

He Says: Hadestown Hits Hot and High Way Down Below

The “Road to Hell” has never been finer than it is currently at the Walter Kerr Theatre with Anaï Mitchell’s spectacular retelling of the old Orpheus myth; a tale of tragic love, survival, faith, and devotion.  The train station should be packed nightly to bare witness to this tight and solidly revolving production, with its suitcase full of wonder, surprise, and a spectacular hot sun. It’s clear from the hot and fiery opening that director Rachel Chavkin (Old Vic’s The American ClockThe Great Comet) has a pure vision of tense and muscular motion, daring us to see the madness of our world inside her robust universe. With feathers on his feet, the captivating and devastatingly smooth André De Shields (Broadway’s The Wiz, PMP’s Half Time) as the engaging and connected Hermes guides us into this realm, with ease and energy. It’s a stunningly electric entrance into the magnificent world of Hadestown that never truly stumbles far from that risk-taking beautiful beginning.

Jewelle Blackman, Kay Trinidad, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

Way down Hadestown” drives forward with a fire under its belly, ratcheting up the emotionality with each moment and a longing look of desire into the eyes of the other. With a viscerally strong New Orleans voodoo draped over top, the music and lyrics, coupled with a tender book by the gifted Mitchell (2019, Bonny Light Horseman), the piece took root many years ago, growing up to the heavens by touring Vermont and building and refining itself, which she orchestrated into an acclaimed concept album (2010, featuring Justin Vernon and Ani Difranco). Selling out the NYTW stage in 2016, Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre in 2017, and the National Theatre in London last year, the constantly evolving musical has finally made its way to Broadway, and made all the better for its journey. The road is long and dangerous, we are told, and in a crowded new musical theater season, the new and improved Hadestown floats up higher than all others as it descends with style and spirit down into this Jazz-soaked Hell so beautifully brought to life by scenic designer Rachel Hauck (Ars Nova’s The Lucky Ones), with dynamically pinpointed lighting by Bradley King (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), and a sizzling sound design by Nevin Steinberg (Broadway’s The Cher Show) and Jessica Paz (Public’s Miss You Like Hell). It’s an epic arrival, this descent, and one that everyone must travel.

Eva Noblezada and the Broadway cast of Hadestown. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

Don’t come on too strong” says Hermes, hoping to help guide the young love struck dreamer, Orpheus, played with a sweet faced sensation by Reeve Carney (Dorian Gray in showtime’s “Penny Dreadful“, Broadway’s Spider-Man…) into the troubled arms of the struggling Eurydice, played soulfully by the powerhouse Eva Noblezada (Broadway’s Miss Saigon, West End’s Les Misérables). The central love story blossoms like a rose on a barren horizon in need of a drink to push away the desperation. It’s “All I’ve Ever Known” she cries, and even if Carney’s sound never really meshed with me, his heart entered my own and grew a flower.  “A Gathering Storm” approaches these two young lovers, determined to unleash the breath of her fates, dynamically played by Jewelle Balckman, Yvette Gonzalex-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad. The three embody the troubled world and its hurting heart, in all its glory and pain, warning and prompting the two forward.

Workers Chorus: Timothy Hughes, Afra Hines, Ahmad Simmons, Kimberly Marable, John Krause. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

They “Chant” and fret about the future, while the workers, robustly played by the powerfully ripped and sinewy chorus comprised of Afra HinesTimothy HughesJohn Krause, Kimberly Marable, Ahmad Simmons, struggle and pound out their existence in breathtaking rotation under the eye and whip of their master. The five lash out the aggressive, athletic, and sensual choreography of David Neumann (BAM’s Home) with sweat and power, entrancing us in their devotion and defeat. “That’s what it looks like to forget“, but for the time being, they are holding on, while the others, King Hades, powerfully played by the low-down Patrick Page (Broadway’s Saint Joan) and his wife, the glorious Persephone, portrayed to heightened perfection by the unbelievably good Amber Gray (NYLA/UTR/Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History…) are “Livin’ It Up On Top” dressed to the 9’s in the dynamic charged costuming of Michael Krass (Broadway’s Noises Off) feeding themselves on wine and passion. “Who makes the summer sunshine bright?” Gray’s Persephone, that’s right, and she is the heart and warm fire down in that hot hard heat of hell.

Amber Gray and the Broadway cast of Hadestown. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

There is trouble though, when the warm seasons gets shorter and her leash gets tightened. “Our Lady of the Underground“, one of the most breathtakingly electric Act Two openers around, flies her fervent and troubled love affair to the forefront after Hades growls out the charismatically forceful “Hey, Little Songbird“. The growl sends shivers run down our collective spines when he summons the scared young girl to step into his office. Persephone knows what’s a-coming for Eurydice, and she pushes that struggle against Hades to the forefront. “How Long?“, they both ask, can their dual natures survive the tempestuous storm, even with the heat generated and radiating outwards between the two. The heat is on, thanks to the musical direction and vocal arrangements of Liam Robinson (Broadway’s War Horse), music coordination by David lai (Broadway’s My Fair Lady), and arrangements and orchestrations by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose. Hades devotion to industry over nature terrifies, blasting forth the idea that building a grand wall will keep out the enemy, and keep them safe, and although that sounds like another demon we all know too well from our world, his powerfully alive wife can see, along with us all, that Hades is just pushing forward ideas of fear against love, with the profoundly saddening belief structure that doubt will undo faith when push comes to shove.

Amber Gray, Patrick Page, Reeve Carney. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

It’s a heart-breaking hell-raising journey to the underworld and back for both these love affairs. The songs, as they say, are so beautiful, they will raise the world back to vibrant color again, even as we connect the historical and mythological dots that make us worry about our present existence. “Wait for Me“, he cries with a wild passionate longing that brought tears to my eye as the lights swung high and powerfully with dramatic purpose through the air. It’s one of those theatrical moments that will live long inside my soul forever embedded in my heart’s fibers.  Hadestown delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience, filled to overflowing with passion, artistry, and love, even as are hearts are crushed in the end by our human frailties.

Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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