BY SANDY STAGGS
Broadway is Back… and it’s one helluva opening. If the new shirts Peace Center ushers are sporting with that slogan are not enough proof, consider the unassailable, ecstatic cheers and roars as the cast of Hadestown took the stage for the first Broadway show in the Upstate since March 2020.
And what a milestone for Greenville to be chosen to launch the first national tour of this mesmerizing work that is both ancient and elegantly modern, and recipient of eight 2019 Tony awards including Best Musical, Original Score, Direction, Orchestrations, and a near sweep of the design categories. Not to mention the Grammy award for cast recording.
Not surprising for a musical – then concept album – and finally Broadway musical by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell with director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812).
Her folk-tinged music (and jazz, country, blues, orchestral) drives this mash-up of two Greek mythic couples into a rapturous mood-piece and cyclical journey described in the “Road to Hell” as “a sad tale. It’s a tragedy. It’s a sad song. But we sing it anyway.”
The younger pair of lovers is Nicholas Barasch (Drama Desk Award® nominee) as Orpheus, the naive lad blessed by the gods (and muse mother) with the power of music, and Morgan Siobhan Green as impoverished dreamer Eurydice.
Intersecting this fateful romance are Persephone (original Broadway company member Kimberly Marable), who was kidnapped to the Underworld (aka Hadestown) by Hades, played by Olivier Award® nominee Kevyn Morrow, but allowed to spend half the year above ground with mortals, which in this adaptation is a 1940s New Orleans-esque speakeasy (designed by Tony winner Rachel Hauck) where Persephone is headlining…and she is magnificent.
Emceeing the proceedings is our reliable narrator and Orpheus’ protector, Hermes, played by the magnetic crooner Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for Million Dollar Quartet), setting the atmosphere in “Road to Hell,” and the stage for Orpheus and Eurydice’s (“Any Way the Wind Blows”) blossoming relationship (a stellar, foreshadowing “Come Home With Me”) and their “Wedding Song.” Kreis (the preacher in A Very Sordid Wedding) proves himself again to be quite the showman as dynamic bandleader and sublime storyteller.
Mitchell’s chilling harmonies for The Fates, a trio of sisters who serve as an internal Greek Chorus for Orpheus are marvelously woven into this tapestry of illusion and mood and marvelously sung by Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne. And all double as roaming musicians on the accordion, violin, and tambourine and bells. along with the live band that is split on the sides of the bar room stage.
Barasch gives a genuinely passionate and impressive turn as Orpheus (“Wait for Me” was impeccable!), and also picks guitar a few times. Along with Green and her gorgeous voice,particularly “Come Home with Me” and her delicious twang in “The Wedding Song,” they do their parts in propelling the plot lines and the magical, meta-physical environment and primo staging.
But their destiny and fate is overshadowed by the Hades and Persephone characters, who are silently lurking on the iron balcony above long before we learn their true identities some two-thirds into the first act with “Hey, Little Songbird” as he tempts Eurydice with the guilty pleasures of Hadestown.
Morrow carries Hades with presence, bravura and gravitas and can swap menacing for charming on a whim. His exhilarating performance in “Why We Build the Wall” (while probably not as memorable as hummable ballads like “Wait for Me” or “Any Way the Wind Blows” or the triumphant show-stopper gospel/Andrew Sisters-style “Way Down Hadestown,” is one of the more resonating compositions with an “obvious” reference to Trump’s wall along the border with Mexico. However, this song was written some 10 years before Trump’s fiasco of a campaign promise.
But for this critic it was Marable’s night. Always stunning and brilliant in every scene whether adviser to the king of the Underworld of purveyor of earthly desires such as liquor, love and song. In a register and style somewhere between Billie Holiday and Diana Ross, Marable delivers and then some as this manic, less-than-sober high-octane chanteuse in “Livin’ It Up on Top” where she shares the spotlight with trombonist (Audrey Ochoa) in one of several incredible energetic solos written for this instrument in the score. Then, she thoroughly seduces us in the act two opener in the jazziest song of all, “Our Lady of the Wonderworld.”
Always working at full speed (literally) is the ensemble in all-gray costumes and make-up. The Workers Chorus features Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, and Jamari Johnson Williams. From patrons in the bar to miners in the deep throat of hell, this invaluable ensemble carries the bulk of the movement by choreographer David Neumann (Tony-nominated for this musical).
The tone of Hadestown in set early on by Chavkin. There is a consistent motion (much like the train to Hades) that permeates the journey no matter the tempo, style of the music, nor the emotional or conflict-driven moments. The story is told (much with the turntable stage) with such a beautiful framework this is refreshingly old-fashioned, yet avant-garde in her approach to the classics.
Much of the show’s luster and mood is to lighting designer Bradley King’s credit for a mind-blowing display that at first seemed to give me a sense that the massive speakeasy and building facades had a claustrophobic feel. Until…SPOILER ALERT….King has prime electrical real estate upstage and some impressive shiny tricks on trusses. Welcome to the fiery gates of Hell! Honestly, the lighting in Hadestown is another character. Bravo Mr. King.
Other design elements of this marvelous kick-off to Broadway’s rebound include the Tony-winning sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, costumes by Michael Krass, and hair designs by Jennifer Mullins.
One note: Don’t rush out after the final bow, there’s more!
Hadestown continues through Sunday, October 10 at the Peace Center, 300 S. Main St. in Greenville. All tickets may be purchased online at peacecenter.org or by calling the Peace Center Box Office at 864.467.3000 or 800.888.7768.
COVID SAFETY POLICY: PROOF OF VACCINATION/NEGATIVE TEST RESULT, MASKS REQUIRED.