It’s the kind of show that doesn’t blow the roof off the house; rather it seeps into your soul and reverberates through your psyche, shedding light and grace on what it is to be human in a less than perfect world. HADESTOWN which won 8 Tony Awards in 2019 including Best Musical, is now onstage at The Opera House, the first of Broadway in Boston’s offerings since the pandemic shut theater down. This is the perfect show to welcome back audiences in a world sorely in need of hope amidst tragedy. Opening night found an understudy rising to take the lead along with a superb cast of performers and an onstage orchestra delivering a mellifluous Grammy Award-winning score whose instrumentation- strings, percussion, piano– vibrates somewhere between the human voice and heaven. Music, lyrics & Book by Tony-winner Anais Mitchell will break and then heal your heart.
The production comes to us from ancient Greek mythology, by way of Mitchell’s indie theater project that toured Vermont! Directed by Tony-winner Rachel Chavkin (“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812″) “Hadestown” updates the myth of Hades, god of the underworld, and sets it in the Great Depression where the road to hell is a train headed “Way Down Hadestown.” Hermes the messenger God of Mount Olympus, is, appropriately, the narrator here, played by a swaggering Levi Kreis. He fills in the blanks, provides the background, and moves the tale along. Also providing “background” a greek chorus of three backup singers as the three fates — Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne– who swirl in and out of the action as these intertwined tales unfold.
Hades has kidnapped the beautiful Persephone and dragged her below ground to become his wife. She is allowed to return above only half the year, and thus this archetypal tale accounts for the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in nature. Kevyn Morrow as Hades is daunting, a foreboding “captain of industry,” whose deep bass voice re-iterates his lugubrious temperament and the underworld landscape he plunders and controls. Hades rules his mechanized world with an iron fist, building walls to keep enemies out and his booty in, literally extracting fossil fuels from the earth’s dead through the dehumanizing toil of hapless souls who’ve made a bad bargain– trading material poverty for an impoverishment of the soul, an eternal living death. But Morrow manages to uncover something relatable in the character, and excavates the remains of Hades’ humanity. It’s a masterful performance. Kimberly Marable’s potent Persephone does her best to break through Hades ego, and stands strong in and out of the sunlight. The show erupts in Act I when she emerges in the spring, costumed in bud green, kicking up her heels and “Livin’ It Up On Top.”
The second love story is that of Orpheus, a poet, singer, and musician who falls instantly and madly in love with Eurydice. In the myth she’s a wood nymph, but here played by a sprightly Morgan Siobhan Green, she’s a homeless waif buffeted “Any Way The Wind Blows.” It’s an endearing performance. The understudy Chibueze Ihuoma stepped into the role of Orpheus on opening night and stole my heart. It took his voice much of Act I to settle into the break between his tenor and falsetto, but his yearning and charisma carried him to Act II; then the entire audience held its breath, listening, wrapped in the melody he’s been writing all along, a dreamlike song of love, letting go, and a supplication to Hades reminding him of who he really is. Will Hades let Eurydice return to the world above with the man she loves? If a song could do it, this radiant ode would be it. We know how this ends. But somehow in the show’s penultimate moments, after Ihuoma intones these mystical strains in his beautiful high tenor, we can’t help but believe there must be a way up and out…
Don’t rush out of the theater at the end. Stay past the last song, the first bows, the standing ovation, until the cast, facing the audience sings out “We Raise Our Cups.” It’s a toast to everyone of us, a transcendent coda, a hymn of hope and resilience in the face of all that’s mortal. Like Orpheus to Hades, artists remind us of the best in ourselves, a glimpse of the divine, lifting us up in the darkness. Prepare to be transported. DO NOT MISS “HADESTOWN” at THE CITIZENS BANK OPERA HOUSE through November 14!