What better way to add to the trend of contemporary modern musicals than to take a classic Greek myth and make it new?
Two timeless love stories will intertwine on stage next month on the Great Wide Way as gods and mortals collide. The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice crosses paths with the complicated and emotional love story of Hades and Persephone in “Hadestown: The Myth. The Musical.”
As stated by the musical’s official website, the story is one of dualistic clashes, a story that “pit[s] industry against nature, doubt against faith, and fear against love.”
The ancient myth, allegorically linked to modern society in the stage adaption, comes to life before audiences’ eyes on March 22 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. On that day, Broadway previews will begin for “Hadestown,” a new musical with its music, lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin.
Chavkin has the acclaimed “Natasha, Pierre, and the Comet of 1812” on her resume. The show was breathtaking in its songs, sets and casting, and mixed musical genres as cast members took up the entirety of the theatre, a space transformed into a cabaret-like setting. If it should stand as any precursor to “Hadestown,” everyone should be itching to go “Way down to Hadestown,” and expect classic Broadway tropes and styles to be pushed and possibly broken.
Mitchell is an American singer-songwriter with six albums to her name, including the inspiration for “Hadestown,” her fourth album. The concept was originally released as a folk-concert opera by the same name in 2010. And as it approaches its Broadway premiere, the show has never lost its leering and folk-song quality that inhabits the wonderfully crafted music.
The music only works to highlight the luscious myth itself. The original tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has been depicted many different ways throughout history by the likes of Virgil, Ovid and other scholars that have each partaken in recounting the tale.
Each version slightly alters the exact details of the story, but the basic plot remains the same; Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve or rescue (depends on what version you are reading) his love, Eurydice.
That’s when Hades and Persephone enter the story.
When arriving in the underworld, Orpheus, through his own music, charms Hades. The king of the underworld agrees to allow Orpheus the chance to save his love, but under one condition: while escorting Eurydice back to the surface world of the living, he may not look back at her.
If Orpheus can be resolute, he can bring his love back to life. But as the story goes, Orpheus always looks backward and always loses Eurydice.
“Hadestown” uses the tragic tale as the bones for the entire structure of the musical and then places a new spin on the classic.
Instead of ancient Greece, another fantasy realm is created on stage — one that feels reminiscent of the Great Depression, channeling the 1920s, yet remains in the influence of the gods. The gods and mortals also interact on a regular basis. Persephone also enters the story long before her husband, signifying her importance as a key player and her strength as her own stand-alone character.
I’ll be the first one to admit that ancient Greek myths sometimes feel one-sided in terms of the male figures versus female figures. Yet, “Hadestown” takes that inequality and uses it throughout to explore the production’s themes.
Persephone actually meets the couple before their tragedy begins during the summertime, and audiences are given scenes of celebration through jazzy ballads filled with warmth, such as “Living It Up on Top.” Persephone is also the one to really push Hades into allowing Orpheus to have a chance to save Eurydice. Moreover, this story sees Persephone as the queen she is, not the scared young girl that was kidnapped by the king of hell. She fell in love with this man at one point and is never depicted as victim to his ways.
Hades is a king throughout the play, but he has also taken on a more sinister feel in his characterization. He is a factory owner in this Depression-like world, a man who controls all the wealth and income within this reality. He is the sole monopoly holder.
Even more eerily applicable to our current society and culture is the song “Why We Build the Wall,” a ballad that explores the detrimental effects fear can have on human beings. It also explores the costs that come from separation. The song was also written far before our current political environment.
In a video interview with the National Theatre, Mitchell says she “never expected it to, the language of that song, to feel so relevant to the language coming out of the mouth to the leader of our country right now.” In the same interview, Chavkin describes the number as the first introduction to “Hadestown proper,” a place where security has been chosen over freedom and spirit. It is absolutely haunting, and scarily reminiscent.
Lending itself to that haunting quality that so comments on today’s world are voices and songs that are contemporary when put in the context of the “usual” Broadway sound. Jazz, folk and blues music fill the musical, rather than the operatic, classical numbers audiences may assume are assigned to being “Broadway.”
Amber Gray is the queen herself, bringing her warm and impactful voice to the bluesy queen Persephone, furthering the modernity of the show as a whole. She is joined by Reeve Carney, André De Shields, Eva Noblezada and Patrick Page.
This musical is something to look forward to for any fan of mythology and fairytale-like storytelling. The journey down to hell will be riotous and filled with tears, laughter and heartbreak. The best part is, fans don’t have to wait for the actual music and can get pumped for the premiere and Broadway album with the current live recording of the concept musical out on iTunes now.