To Hell and Back, a Journey you must take, with Broadway in Chicago
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
4 Stars out of 4
Pulling out the vaccine card at the CIBC Theatre for opening night of Anaïs Mitchell’s masterpiece folk opera, the Tony award-winning Hadestown felt so meaningful and important this week. The cold war has begun once again and darkness threatens, and so we return to Greek mythology and tragedy. This is the story of Orpheus, who is the son of the god Apollo, and a Muse, and his great love for Eurydice who is taken to the underworld, the kingdom of Hades and his Queen Persephone. Orpheus attempts to sing her back to life, and tragedy ensues. But with Mitchell’s masterful yarn spinning, her music, book and lyrics and the sensitive development and direction of Rachel Chavkin (and the fantastic choreography of David Neuman) this very old and very sad song becomes a rich epic about the haves and the have nots, about yearning, about love, about grief and pain, about nature in balance, about how the world isn’t what you thought it would be-- in short about everything we are worrying about right now. There is even a song about a Wall and how Poverty is the Enemy. Timely.
We are led on this marvelous journey by a silver-suited, golden-throated Hermes, played by Levi Kreis. He is backed up by an onstage band helmed by Cody Owen Stine. Shout out to Audrey Ochoa’s trombone playing which gives this New Orleans-esque score a soaring high several times. Hermes is often counterpointed by the three Fates, who also play instruments: Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne. There is a divine chorus delivering dance numbers and physicalizing the music in ways that make you want to leap from your seat and dance too.
Mitchell makes Orpheus a naïve artist, played by Nicholas Barasch whose tenor voice is otherworldly and Eurydice a hardscrabble girl that has seen too much- played with strength and vulnerability by Morgan Siobhan Green. In this version, she chooses the warmth of the underworld because winter has come and you can’t eat art. The Fates do an amazing number here and it should be a theme song for 2022: When the Chips Are Down. Eurydice sings: All I have ever known is how to hold my own, and she betrays the innocent and optimistic love of Orpheus who then travels to Hades to bring her back to the world of the living. He refuses to believe the world is what they say: dark and exploitive. He believes that he can change the way it is. His singing has the power to move stone, rally the numbed, and it opens the closed heart of Hades which allows Hades’ wife Persephone to bring balance back to the world. Still, a bargain is made and Orpheus is unable to overcome his own doubts and fails the test of his willpower: Eurydice must stay in the underworld.
Hades here played by the stern and gravel-voiced Kevyn Morrow is a man being overcome by his desire to own and control. He has forgotten his youth and his love for Persephone, played by the wise and effervescent Kimberly Marable. The juxtaposition of the new and old love stories is striking. And every single member of this cast is a standout.
This amazing work has been in the making since 2006 when it was a DIY production in a tiny town in Vermont, and the road to Broadway was almost as long as the road to Hades, but the process of creating this deeply moving show has meant there is nothing extraneous. This work is a classic already and bears multiple viewings. It has something powerful to teach us about being human despite being about “gods”—it's no wonder that artists have been riffing on this story for centuries. This musical can rightly take its place in the pantheon.
The single set by Rachel Nauck eschews the projections so popular now with touring productions and is a gritty juke joint that morphs into the industrialized factory of Hadestown, the electrified Hell designed by the King of Shades. There is dirt and sweat and tears on this stage. There is a remarkable “ballet” with factory lights: all of the lighting by Bradley King underscores and advances the plot, from the golden sunshine when Persephone returns to the upper world, to the darkness on the Road to Hell.
You are going to have to hurry if you want to see this show— Hadestown is only in town at the CIBC Theatre at 18 West Monroe in Chicago’s loop until March 13, 2022, with shows on Tuesday through Sunday. For tickets and information go here.