Review: “Hadestown,” National Tour at The Orpheum (*****)

(L to R) Kevyn Morrow as Hades,, Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus, and Kimberly Marable as Persephone in the North American Touring Company of Hadestown at the Orpheum Theatre. Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson.

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Has it been a while since you’ve been to a large theater? Has COVID kept you away? After two years plus, many of us are thrilled to be returning to The Orpheum and other large downtown venues to see “big ticket” shows, such as Broadway tours.

Well, in my opinion, if we really want our theatre fix that bad, we can all just go to Hell.

I refer of course to the national touring company of the Broadway hit, “Hadestown,” which can now be visited at The Orpheum.

And, let me tell you, this company really heats it up!

If you are reading this post, you most likely already know that “Hadestown” is a retelling of the Orpheus myth, in which Orpheus — the legendary poet, prophet, and singer of ancient Greece — descends into Hades to retrieve his wife Eurydice who died just after their wedding. Hades, Lord of the Underworld, is so moved by Orpheus’s eloquence he agrees that Eurydice may follow him to the land of the living, provided that Orpheus never looks back to see her until they arrive safely home. But as he crosses the threshold of Hell, Orpheus does look back and loses her forever.

As our guide to the story, the messenger God Hermes, makes clear in the haunting,  jazzy, opening song, “it’s an old song,” and, “we’re gonna sing it again.”

The sad song of love followed by the inevitable loss of death is the oldest, truest, and saddest song of all, our common fate.

This simple story holds the essence of humanity in its truth telling and is therefore always new while being unimaginably ancient. This newness of the ancient story is what attracted musician Anaïs Mitchell to create her masterpiece, and there can be no doubt that masterpiece it is.

Although the story is simple, its resonance is deep. Mitchell understands this and uses the Orpheus myth to explore all sorts of human issues: economics, love, death, exploitation, redemption, art, religion, fate, faith, and the kitchen sink.

Is she laying too much on a simple framework? No, she is not. It is the nature and genius of mythology (and perhaps, especially, Greek mythology) that the simple scaffoldings of these ancient stories are incredibly strong and flexible. All that can be said of humans and gods is present.

Admittedly, this is one hell of a burden to place on a Broadway musical, but “Hadestown” delivers the goods.

From the moment the god Hermes (personified by the excellent Levi Kreis) invites us to board the train, we know we are in good hands. Kreis is a conductor par excellence and holds the complex threads of the story loosely in his hands, clarifying everything.

The other essential players are two couples: human and god. The humans are Orpheus and Eurydice, living with human grief. Spring has not come to the world for a very long time. Orpheus, a gifted prophet and songwriter of magical abilities, is composing a song that will restore the world, but Eurydice, a practical girl, has her doubts. (The theme of a broken world is key to the story, and the implied comment on the climate change crisis is interesting.)

Eventually, Eurydice decides to leave Orpheus to take the train to Hadestown—a horrible place ruled by King Hades, who exploits workers in a nightmarish factory where the sun never shines. His wife is the spectacularly beautiful goddess Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter.

Nicholas Barasch conveys an otherworldly beauty as Orpheus. Firstly, he is extraordinary to watch. Baby-faced, long-limbed and athletic, with shockingly pale skin and extremely bright red hair, he looks like nobody else. His movements are simultaneously graceful and awkward, and he conveys a confused vulnerability that is enchanting. These natural gifts are perfectly suited to the character of Orpheus, giving the impression of what I can only describe as a god-like goofiness. And he sings like an angel. As his love, the brilliant and passionate Eurydice, Morgan Siobhan Green is both mercurial and riveting.

As King Hades and his Queen Persephone, Kevin Morrow and Kimberly Marable give the kind of performances for which superlatives were invented: passionate, thrilling, graceful, overwhelming, unbelievable, unforgettable—you want more? Just open a thesaurus to “superlative” and you’ll find plenty to apply.

The rest of the ensemble rise to the occasion in every detail, singing and dancing and acting at stratospheric levels.

The members of the design team each deserve their own full-throated, enthusiastic review. Visually, the show is as thrilling as a roller coaster ride and there are moments that can make you gasp and shout. Callouts to Rachel Hauck (scenic design-Tony winner), Michael Krass (costume design-Tony nominated), Bradley King (lighting design-Tony winner), and Nevin Steinberg/Jessica Paz (co-sound design-Tony winner).

Writing this review has left me breathless, but not as breathless as the performance itself.

I must mention this: Nicholas Barasch (Orpheus) has left the tour, and the role of Orpheus is now played by Chibueze Ihuoma, who has understudied the role for a long time and performed it on Broadway. This change is unlikely to diminish the production in the slightest—nothing could, really.

Just go, friends, and don’t forget to buckle your seat belt.

“Hadestown” plays at The Orpheum in San Francisco through July 3, 2022. For further information click here.
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Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.
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“Hadestown.” Music, lyrics & book by Anaïs Mitchell. Presented by National Theatre and New York Theatre Workshop. Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Music supervisor and vocal arrangements: Liam Robinson. Choreographed by David Neuman. Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck. Costume Design: Michael Krass. Lighting Design: Bradley King. Co-Sound Design: Kevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz. Hair design: Jennifer Williams.

Cast:

Orpheus: Nicholas Barasch. Eurydice: Morgan Siobhan Green. Persephone: Kimberly Marable. Hades: Kevyn Morrow. Hermes: Levi Kreiss. Fates: Balén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne. Workers Chorus: Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Sydney Parra, Eddie Noel Rodríguez, Jarami Johnson Williams.

Orchestra:

Conductor/piano: Nathan Koci. Cello/Assistant Conductor: Jacob Yates. Violin: Clare Armentere. Guitar: Michiko Egger. Trombone/Glockinspiel: Audrey Ochoa. Double bass: Calvin Jones. Drums/percussion: Anthony Ty Johnson. Music coordinator: David Lai.

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