Hadestown, the 2019 Tony Award-winning musical that grew out of a 2010 concept album by Anaïs Mitchell, is an earnest and goodhearted show (now in a short run with Broadway in Chicago) that in some regards left me cold. (Or maybe lukewarm, as I imagine the temperature in purgatory might be.) This gloss on Greek mythology, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, gives us the familiar story of Eurydice and Orpheus; or, she who goes to hell and he who tries to bring her out but fails. (He disobeys Hades’s order not to look back at Eurydice until they’re back up top, which is one of those capricious demands powerful men make when they want to be total dicks, and aren’t we all a little tired of it?) It’s a mostly sung-through rehashing of the myth, smashed up with a soupçon of social commentary in lyric form that feels like it was added for the Trump years—one song is actually called “Why We Build the Wall”—but in fact existed earlier on Mitchell’s album. (She wrote the music, book, and lyrics, making her just the fourth woman on Broadway to do so.)
Through 3/13: Tue and Thu-Fri 7:30 PM, Wed 2 and 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, 800-775-2000, $89-$512, broadwayinchicago.com.
Hades (Kevyn Morrow) is the brutal industrialist bent on extracting fossil fuels (he is closer to the core of the Earth, after all), and Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch, in full control of a voice that conjures the falsetto one imagines the son of Calliope would have), as we are told repeatedly, is a naive poet. By contrast, Morgan Siobhan Green’s Eurydice is a tough street urchin. The show sets them up as parallels to Mimi and Roger from Rent at the beginning. (She enters with a candle, asking “Anybody got a match?”, while Orpheus is dreaming of writing “A song to fix what’s wrong / Take what’s broken, make it whole / A song so beautiful / It brings the world back into tune,” which sure sounds like “One Song Glory” to me.)
And then there’s Kimberly Marable’s hard-drinking Persephone, who escapes her husband six months of the year to party it up in what looks like a New Orleans dive as imagined by David Lynch (nicely captured in Rachel Hauck’s scenic design). The story suggests that she is the key to imminent revolution in Hadestown, but that tantalizing prospect never develops in act two, nor does the potentially poignant story of two older people who truly were in love once, but are now also trapped in an underworld of resentment and avoidance. (Would Orpheus and Eurydice have ended up the same way? Who knows?)
Levi Kreis (who played Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo years ago) makes a charming and insinuating host/narrator as Hermes—charming enough to almost make up for the fact that his job seems to be to tell us what we should be shown. There’s also a sassy trio of fates (think Little Shop of Horrors) and a five-member “workers chorus” delivering David Neuman’s stylized choreography of the repetitive labors of the underworld.
The songs are fine, with nods to New Orleans jazz, blues, and pop/rock (“Way Down in Hadestown” is truly a toe-tapper/showstopper), though a sameness in tempo becomes evident. (I particularly enjoyed Audrey Ochoa’s trombone work.) But I never felt invested in the story of the central lovers, who are defined mostly as “poor and in love,” as contrasted to “rich and out of love” Hades and Persephone.
If this were conceived more like Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, where the characters are deliberately broad archetypes standing in for different class and social strata, then the thinness of the central journey wouldn’t perhaps matter as much. But if you’re giving us mythological characters and asking us to invest in them as flesh-and-blood beings, and if we don’t feel the keen longing and passion between the two younger characters, then it’s hard (or at least it was for me) to feel invested in what happens to them over two and a half hours. Especially since we know how it ends.