Way down in Hadestown at the National Theatre is one of the best musicals of the year
“Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do.
Whole damn nation’s watching you”
I loved Hadestown so much that I had booked to see it for a second time before I even got home from the first. Read more about that trip here, including me trying the National’s new smart caption glasses, and read on for a review that focuses properly on Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant musical here. An adaptation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, developed with director Rachel Chavkin, it riffs on the myth by relocating the action to a dive bar in the Deep South and redefines hell for our capitalist age. And they fill the Olivier with music, such music, that transforms Hadestown into the kind of experience that lingers long in the mind.
Mitchell’s score succeeds so much because it establishes such an identity for itself that it dares you not to be seduced into the world of the gods, or at least New Orleans. At its best, its simply elemental – ‘Way Down Hadestown’ has the kind of tune that sounds like it has always existed and will not quit your brain anytime soon. And as you collect the influences – hints of Jason Robert Brown on ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, the Johnny Cash-esque call and response of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the straight up musical theatre emotion of ‘Wait For Me”s chorus, to name but a few – you realise a new form of Americana has evolved here.
From the indecent growl of Nathaniel Cross’ trombone to the rippling arpeggios of Mike Guy’s piano, the onstage band are an absolute treat to watch. But Chavkin’s production soars just as much on its casting. Eva Noblezada and Reeve Carney pair well as Eurydice and Orpheus, his f*ckboy musician ways winning her over despite her initially sceptical nature. But they are Jack-and-Karen’d (or Bernardo-and-Anita’d – pick your reference) out of the limelight by the scorching duo of Patrick Page’s Hades and Amber Gray’s Persephone.
He’s got the kinda growl in his voice that brings to mind an aeroplane engine and she has all the propulsive energy of that plane taking off and together, they’re just hypnotic as they detail their own love story for the ages. With a dapper André De Shields as MC-of-sorts Hermes supporting from the sidelines, The Fates – Cary Mercedes Dyer, Rosie Fletcher and Gloria Onitiri – forever insinuating their way into the action with their stunning harmonies, and a crack ensemble who slickly deliver the kinetic force of David Neumann’s choreography, Hadestown really is a feast for the senses.
If you were so inclined, you might point out that there isn’t the hugest amount of dramatic tension here, especially if you are familiar with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. But there’s just so much on offer here, in the beautifully detailed set (Rachel Hauck) that both contains and opens out the action, that it would take a stubborn soul to resist the spell of Hadestown.