‘Hadestown’ at Orpheum Theatre astonishes, awes with ambitious artistry

Photo of Hadestown
T Charles Erickson/Courtesy

Related Posts

“Hadestown” may run nearly three hours long, but it’s still over too soon. 

The show draws audiences into its irresistible musical depths quicker than Hades lures souls into the underworld. Luckily for theatergoers, the journey through hell’s endless toils is a tantalizing display of world-class talent which seduces from all directions — truly a deal with the devil one can’t help but make.

A distinctive retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, “Hadestown” unites a crew of mythological figures to tell a timeless tale of love amid a backdrop of timely political concerns. Written by Anaïs Mitchell and developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, this winner of the 2019 Tony Awards for Best Musical tells a story as powerful as its team’s creative prowess.

Guided by the dry, witty narration of Hermes (Levi Kreis), “Hadestown” tells the tale of young lovers Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), the son of a muse, and Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green), an impoverished girl hardened by hunger. This worldly romance blossoms as another couple’s love grows stale in the spiritual realm. Discord in the marriage of Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable) permeates the world above, resulting in famine and unrest. Luckily, Orpheus is hard at work writing a song “so beautiful/ It brings the world back into tune.”

This immaculate production reels audiences in from the very start. Within the first seconds of the opening number “Road to Hell,” a riveting, jazzy trombone line grabs the audience’s attention. By the time the song swells into an impassioned, heart-flitting introduction of the musical’s main players, listeners are completely hooked. The musical opens with a tidal wave of immersive energy, and this momentum is never lost.

The catchiness of the introductory number is difficult to top, but Mitchell’s masterpiece only expands on its strong start. The electric soundtrack of “Hadestown” is thoroughly memorable, leaving audiences humming along to the infectious melodies for days. 

Brilliant lyricism further elevates each number. Particularly notable merit comes from the vivid imagery of “Wedding Song” and the repetitive building of persuasion in “Why We Build the Wall.” Every word in every line is piercing and thoughtful, perfected to swiftly deliver each swoon and pang straight into viewers’ hearts. Each song continually warms, then haunts, then satisfies — presenting a poignancy unmatched.

Just as every musical number is triumphant, each character in “Hadestown” is complex and compelling. Orpheus is a starry-eyed optimist one can’t help but dream alongside; Eurydice is grounded by experience and weathered while still sharp. Hades has a still-beating heart trapped under a hard malevolent exterior; strong-willed Persephone challenges bounds with loud complaints and a good time. Even the Fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne) are chill and tormenting, while Hermes guides and relieves.

Every intriguing character enriches the fictional world and makes each scene even more captivating. These unique and nuanced personalities are brought to life by a deeply talented cast. While each member shines individually, they all meld together to create something blinding — an outpour of quality artistry from the performers that is truly a sight to behold. 

In a sky scattered with stars, Marable’s explosive performance as Persephone particularly sparkles, and her commanding presence on stage demands full attention. When Persephone enters, all eyes turn to witness Marable oozing with confidence, singing, dancing and acting with superhuman effortlessness and ease.

Another stellar performer is one whose smiling face may not appear in the program, but the show wouldn’t be the same without her. Trombonist Audrey Ochoa blazes with her fiery playing, demonstrating extraordinary musicianship in every number. Ochoa’s trombone is a pulse of the production — her virtuosity making the show come alive.

“Hadestown” is a stunningly breathtaking and astounding ode to “the world we dream about, and the one we live in now.” A tale of hope and resilience, this is the story the world needs right now — its San Francisco run is not to be missed.

Joy Diamond covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].