Music, lyrics & book by Anaïs Mitchell; directed by Rachel Chavkin
Opened April 16, 2019
Patrick Page and Amber Gray in Hadestown (photo: Matthew Murphy)
Orpheus and Eurydice have been fodder for artists through the centuries, including French composer Jacques Offenbach and French filmmaker Jean Cocteau. But Offenbach’s opera Orpheus in the Underworld and Cocteau’s Orpheus films are marked by genius; Hadestown, cobbled together by book writer-lyricist-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, isn’t a patch on such works of art, however cleverly staged by Rachel Chavkin.
Set in a dusty, Depression-era burg that recalls the French Quarter, the show at times spits out the swampy, jazzy sounds of the Big Easy; but Mitchell also succumbs to attempts at ear-piercing Broadway show tunes that come off as merely obligatory. At its most original, Mitchell’s music grooves with robust assurance. Most interesting—as others have pointed out—is that, for once, the men (Orpheus, Hades and Hermes) have it more difficult vocally than the women (Eurydice and Persephone). That’s not a slight on Eva Noblezada and Amber Gray, who sound great singing comfortably in their middle range, but Mitchell puts the three male leads—Reeve Carney’s high tenor, Patrick Page’s rumblingly low bass and ageless Andre de Shields in between—through a sometimes treacherous vocal ride.
That’s about it for originality in Hadestown, a show that’s bounced around in various guises for over a decade with little if anything to show for it. If Mitchell’s music and lyrics don’t grab one by the throat, and if her derivative book doesn’t add up to much compared with its mythical forebears, then it’s up to director Chavkin to make Hadestown, if not sing, at least move. She does that, literally, with a trio of onstage turntables, which, combined with Rachel Hauck’s seedy set, Michael Krauss’s sober costumes and Bradley King’s savvy lighting, conjures a sweaty musical purgatory populated by some grim (and grimy) characters.
But despite her best efforts, Chavkin can’t make Hadestown anything more than a fitfully entertaining gloss on the Orpheus myth.
Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48th Street, New York, NY