Robert Tanitch reviews Hadestown at National Theatre/Olivier, London.
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most popular classical myths.
Virgil, Ovid, Plato, Monteverdi, Gluck, Offenbach, Corot, Stanhope, Rodin, Tennessee Williams, and of course the French, Cocteau, Anouilh and Camus, to name a very few, have all come up with their versions.
Orpheus, the number one poet, who could entertain wild beats with his singing and lyre playing and cause rocks and trees to dance, goes to the underworld in search of his wife, Eurydice.
He successfully negotiates her release by offering Hades a song; but he does not stick to the condition laid down by Hades (that he must not look back at her until he reached the land of the living) and he loses her forever.
Hadestown began as a concert album. The book, music and lyrics are by Anais Mitchell. Rachel Chavkin then developed and directed it for the stage. The production has bags of energy. The choreography is by David Neumann. The band is on stage.
The show has already been seen off-Broadway. It’s now at the National Theatre to get it right before it opens on Broadway.
Rachel Hauck’s setting for this update is a New York saloon bar. The stage has three revolves and a rising and falling drum which when it sinks leaves a gaping Hell hole.
Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada are the puppy, preppy young lovers. Orpheus and Eurydice are upstaged by two much older lovers, Hades and Persephone.
Hades, God of the Dead and King of the Underworld, is extremely wealthy and the sort of Dictator Donald Trump admires. He claims he is a building a wall round Hades to keep out the enemy (I.e. the poor) and keep the nation free.
Patrick Page’s Hades, in a silver and black pinstripe suit, has real presence, a wonderful growly voice and one of the album’s best songs, Hey Little Songbird. Amber Gray as Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, who likes a drink, vamps it up.
André De Shields as Hermes, messenger to the gods, has style and hospitality and is a very dapper emcee. The chorus of energised industrialised workers in classic 1920s/1930s uniformed overalls look ready for a Lewis Hine photographic shoot.
The songs are very enjoyable. The high spot for many will be the “What are you going to do now the chips are down?” number sung by the three Fates. It’s so well performed, vocally and physically, it might encourage somebody to let Anais Mitchell and David Neumann loose on the Witches in Macbeth.