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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
This musical re-telling actually began as a concept album by singer-songwriter and musician Anaïs Mitchell in 2010. The album led to a concert tour that won a large fan base for the folk and jazz and blues inflected music. When Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin, the dynamic director of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812 met three years ago, they began working together on a theatrical adaptation. And it's the result of that collaboration that makes a trip to New York Theatre Workshop imperative for anyone who appreciates vibrant, original musicals.
While Hadestown hasn't completely shed its album-concert roots, it's not overstating anything when it describes itself as a folk opera. All the songs are there, plus a bunch of new ones and the addition of a narrator named Hermes (Chris Sullivan). This retelling — or to be more specific, re-singing— of the famous myth has been brought into the future. Eurydice and Orpheus fall in love in an unnamed city though the southern jazz and blues infused folk music, Liam Robinson's terrific on-stage band and Michael Krass's costumes and a evoke a 1940s style New Orleans look.
Eurydice (Nabiyah Be) is now more pro-active in her fate. That means that her less pragmatic, pipe-dreaming lover, Orpheus (Damon Daunno), has to rescue her from the underworld rather than to literally bring her back to life.
The underworld into which the pragmatic Eurydice seeks to escape the hardscrabble life up above is a dreary one-percent dominated industrial place abound which its ruler, an eerily Trump-like Hades (Patrick Page), has built a wall to keep out the needy people up above. Instead of Instead of Persephone being Hades' forcefully abducted wife she and he are here a long married, once much in love couple. But all of Hades' wealth and power have not prevented their love from losing its spark, prompting Persephone to regularly seek relief from boredom and "livin It Up On Top.". No wonder the passion of the young lovers, ignites Hades'interest in Erydice when he sojourns up above to bring Persephone back. The Fates (Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton and Shaina Taub), serve as a chorus resembling a girl group trio.
Director Chavkin and scenic designer Rachel Hauck have reconfigured the theater into a an arena style space, with the audience seated on mismatched wooden chairs (yes, there are pillows to make them more comfortable) all around the stage with the band at the far end and a balcony space above them. This allows Chavkin to keep the actors entering and moving around through the audience aisles to create an immersive experience.
Since the story revolves around the young lovers with different views of life (he's a dreamer and she more practical) this show could easily have used their names for the title. be titled Eurydice and Orpheus. But Hadestown is indeed the ideal choice given the mood and style of this riveting production and the overall excellence of all the performers. (It's also a sure-fire box office draw for fans of the Hadestown album). Be and Daunno are both making impressive Off-Broadway debuts as the young lovers. Chris Sullivan's magnetic Hermes couldn't wish for better story-telling support than he gets from the trio playing the Fates. When it comes to portraying a villain with compelling ferocity who could be better than the boom-voiced Patrick Page? And Amber Gray is a truly magnificent Persephone.
Of course, the real star of Hadestown is the music with its well blended mix of folk music, blues-y jazz and pop presented as solos, duets, "instrumental on Top" and "Way Down in Hadestown." The lyrics are also very smart. The all too current events resonating "Why We Build the Wall" done as a call-and-response number by Page and the Fates is one of many highlights.
Rachel Hauk's essentially bare stage is enhanced with a few astutely introduced props by Noah Mease and Bradley King's superb lighting. David Neumann's choreography focuses on movement rather than high kicks, but there's one fun dance by Page and Gray.
Hadestown is the third highly original and enjoyable new musical to debut Off-Broadway. Dear Evan Hansen which has ended its Second Stage run with the announcement of its transfer to Broadway. A Total Bend may well continue the the Public Theater's record-breaking streak of Broadway transfers. I wouldn't be suprised if Hadestown, also ends up moving uptown. But don't wait. Catch it while you can in this smaller, more intimate setting.