Broadway has returned to the Kennedy Center, and it’s music to our ears — really good music, in fact, courtesy of Anaïs Mitchell’s tuneful Hadestown (★★★★☆). Winner of eight Tony Awards in 2019, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, the show, which is back on Broadway following the months-long shutdown, launched its national tour in the Opera House with a performance that brought the opening night audience to its feet.
Only the fourth musical in Broadway history to have a woman as solo author, Hadestown boasts a score full of actual songs. In an era populated with musical scores that sound like stream of consciousness set to snippets of melody, or with lyrics that might have been dispensed by rhyming software, Mitchell gives us rich, atmospheric New Orleans jazz and blues, and rootsy folk-rock that fill the house and transport the imagination. Providing a firm bed of sex and syncopation for the show’s poetic retelling of the romantic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Mitchell’s score sounds fantastic live, but could live anywhere.
Mitchell herself recorded a Hadestown concept album that’s well worth a listen, and director Rachel Chavkin’s Broadway cast, including stage legend André De Shields, earned a 2020 Grammy Award for the Original Cast recording. So this touring company follows some auspicious history, and still must rise to the occasion, which they do — literally, atop the wooden risers and wrought iron balconies of Rachel Hauck’s Tony-winning scenic design. The cast are joined onstage by six pieces of the fabulous orchestra (minus a percussionist offstage), creating an atmosphere of our characters singing and dancing at the cosmic crossroads between a Big Easy dive bar and the underworld.
In this realm of gods and men, fates and muses, Orpheus and Eurydice meet and fall in love, intertwining their fates, and the gorgeous voices of Nicholas Barasch and Morgan Siobhan Green, playing the tragic lovers. His sparkling tenor captures poor Orpheus’ longing and wide-eyed optimism, while she caresses each melody with a tenderness conveying Eurydice’s heart and hurt. Oddly, the score, for all its merits, doesn’t offer a duet to surpass the highs that either hits with their solo ballads. A few times, Barasch holds the audience in the palm of his hand, along with his guitar, performing parts I-III of “Epic,” the song Orpheus composes in the hopes of bringing light and spring to their cold, dark world.
“Epic” chronicles the tormented love story of gods Persephone (Kimberly Marable) and Hades (Kevyn Morrow), another couple who have their strongest onstage musical moments while leading the company in their respective solos. With dramatic chops and personality more than with pristine pipes, Marable, a member of the original Broadway cast, presents a Persephone who dawns brightly into her power as “Our Lady of the Underground.” Her hellacious partner Hades hits his bottom notes powerfully, too, with Morrow’s sonorous bass building like a storm in the first-act closer “Why We Build the Wall.”
Hades somehow seduces Eurydice away from her beloved and to a hell of eternal factory labor, with some help from the Fates, played by the talented trio of Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne. Always tight on their harmonies and movement, the Fates exemplify the humor and precision in David Neumann’s choreography, also brought to dazzling life by the company of Workers, and by Levi Kreis as the god Hermes. A Tony winner for his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, Kreis grabs the crowd with the swinging opener “Road to Hell,” and holds the reins throughout as soulful emcee, although lacking the world-weary edge De Shields exuded in originating the role.
The production, ultimately, seems to have smoothed its edges for travel, not delivering the denouement with the full force of doom and death underlying the legend. Perhaps there’s too much joy in it, or in experiencing it, to feel too down about Orpheus and Eurydice. Rather than the story’s tragic loss of faith in love, it’s the love in Mitchell’s music that will send audiences on their way home singing.
Hadestown runs through Oct. 31, at Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $45 to $175. Call 202-467-4600, or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
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