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ONE MAN’S ADVENTURES IN DISPLAY

Month

Nov 2018

In the musical Hadestown the devil has all the best tunes

Amber Gray,Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre, Nathaniel Cross ,
Hadestown: Amber Gray as Persephone and Nathaniel Cross on trombone. (Photo Helen Maybanks)

poster, Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre,A new musical has arrived at the NT from NY. Celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin have transformed Mitchell’s album into a genre-defying new musical that mixes modern American folk music with vintage New Orleans jazz to reimagine the sweeping Ancient Greek tale of Orpheus and his muse Eurydice. Andy Polaris visits London’s National Theatre to review Hadestown…
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Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre, Orpheus, Euridice, Eva Noblezada, Reeve Carney,
Hadestown: Reeve Carney as Orpheus and Eva Noblezada as Euridice. (Photo Helen Maybanks)

Hadestown opens in what appears to be a southern blues venue you may expect to find on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a split-level space with musicians overlooking the dancefloor and wooden tables and chairs for the drinkers. A spiral staircase leads to an ornate balcony overhead with a hidden back room where the management can view all the salacious proceedings that are associated with liquor and raucous revellers.

It opens with mature dapper Hermes (Andre de Shields) as the narrator who sets the stage and introduces us to young, footloose and hungry Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) who comes across another free spirit, musician Orpheus (Reeve Carney). He is quickly smitten with Eurydice and feels that their fate is entwined. Despite having little material wealth, he has the gift of music and song, so persuades her in ‘Come Home With Me’ that he will change her life.

They are joined by a talented company of singers/dancers who act as revellers in the club and work up a sweat as factory workers enslaved by the relentless hardships of the underworld. Especially in the factory scenes, the robust choreography by David Neumann is in parts sexy and solemn and it made me think of Madonna’s classic industrial ‘Express Yourself’ video, itself heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The revolving stage that hollowed out and dropped down to evoke Hadestown was impressive, as were the dancers’ chain-gang moves in several of the physical songs such as ‘Way Down Hadestown’.

Andre de Shields , Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre,
Hadestown: Andre de Shields as Hermes with the company. (Photo Helen Maybanks)

Eurydice falls under the commanding spell of Hades (Patrick Page), the power behind the curtain like the Mighty Oz, whose terrific bass voice intones the rules of engagement. With his promise of no more hunger and uncertainty during ‘Hey Little Songbird’, she grasps the nettle in desperation. Throughout, the vampy female Fates (Carly Mercedes Dyer, Rosie Fletcher, Gloria Onitiri) sing and play accordion and violin to offer their judgement on the hapless lovers. The shimmying and sashaying trio deliver ‘When The Chips Are Down’ with beautiful harmonies and so much sass that I found myself humming this vocal highlight on the way home (and will I’m sure become a burlesque/cabaret favourite).

Hades’ lover Persephone (Amber Gray) belts outs  ‘Livin It Up On Top’ in a voice familiar with gin and weary with eternity. When Hades and Eurydice explain ‘Why We Build the Wall’ it chimes with the current climate in the US in an effective call-and-response with the chorus. As the lovers’ separation and reunion follows the Ancient Greek myth, the action dips a little before the finale, yet the joy of this show is the beauty and clarity of the diverse ensemble who are both attractive and accomplished. Eva Nobledaze (who starred previously in Miss Saigon) has a mesmerising voice that showcases the vulnerablity of Eurydice. The boyish charm and passion of guitar-slinging Orpheus is embodied in Reeve Carney, whose sweet vocal range is reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, and together their chemistry brought conviction to this romantic tragedy.

Hadestown is a musician’s and singer’s musical with everyone on that crowded stage getting down with the funk, jazz, and blues to an exceptional high standard. I’m sure its success is inevitable on Broadway and we’re lucky to catch this American cast in London, that’s why I would urge you to invest in this fatalistic and familiar tale.

Carly Mercedes Dyer, Gloria Onitiri, Rosie Fletcher ,Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre,
Hadestown: Carly Mercedes Dyer, Gloria Onitiri and Rosie Fletcher as the Fates. (Photo Helen Maybanks)

* Though the London run at the NT is sold out until 26 Jan 2019, every Friday at 1pm an allocation of £20 tickets for Hadestown is released by the National Theatre to buy online, for the following week’s performances.

* Read more about Hadestown at the National Theatre website. The show comes to the UK following record-breaking runs at New York Theatre Workshop and Canada’s Citadel Theatre, before opening on Broadway.

* Follow the show’s progress at its own Hadestown website

Hadestown, National Theatre, London, musical, theatre, Orpheus, Euridice,
Hadestown: The exceptionally talented and muscular company. (Photo Helen Maybanks)

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David Byrne triumphantly rewrites the rules for a rock concert

David Byrne, live concert, 'American Utopia', rock music, musicians,choreography
Live on-stage: David Byrne playing guitar at the centre of his barefoot ‘American Utopia’ musicians. Photographed by Ben Stas

Last time that I saw the legendary Talking Heads was over thirty years ago at London’s Hammersmith Palais. It was the ‘Remain In Light’ tour, a landmark album for the band with the creative production of Brian Eno and live with Bernie Worrell from Funkadelic augmenting the line-up.  So the glowing five-star international reviews for David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ tour 2018 meant there was genuine and palpable anticipation surging through the 4,000-strong audience packed into the Brighton Centre this week.

The set opened with a vast empty stage, only a small table and chair with a grey-haired casually suited Byrne seated and singing to a plastic brain which he held aloft. He looked like the coolest science teacher explaining its merits, albeit barefoot and to a much more appreciative adult education class. He was joined onstage by similarly attired backing vocalists Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba who we quickly realised, along with the rest of the 11-piece band, were agile in their dual role as musicians and dancers. It was the realisation that with Annie-B Parson’s sophisticated and at times elaborate choreography (especially for the backing vocalists) this was far from standard fare.  I then remembered the work Byrne did with dancer Twyla Tharp in the eighties, and realised this show has become a logical next step in the imaginative presentation of his eclectic catalogue.

We moved uptempo with ‘Lazy’, the breezy solo club hit that resulted when Byrne guested as vocalist with X Press 2, and this buoyed the crowd with its almost aerobic glee. This was followed by the first Talking Heads gem ‘I Zimbra’ (Fear of Music) when we saw everyone – especially the impressive six-piece percussion section – play and dance a combination of street carnival panache and those joyous college brass bands in the US.

David Byrne, live concert, tour, 'American Utopia' ,poster
David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ 2018 tour poster

From here on we were treated to almost two hours of frenetic then thoughtful funky reworkings of Talking Heads material and cuts from David Byrne’s prodigious solo material including the current release ‘American Utopia’ which reflects on the dire current US political climate with a sense of hope. The standouts were many but the surreal when released ‘Once In A Lifetime’ crackled with almost evangelical zeal as Byrne flung himself around on-stage… Against giant dancing shadows like a Busby Berkeley musical number, ‘Blind’ was given brassy punch and brought energetic solos from its talented percussionist pool… The opening guitar chords of ‘Burning Down the House’ did exactly what it said on the label… ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ exuded an inclusive party feel which Byrne explained was also matched by his band’s origins from all around the world. Personally I loved  ‘Born Under Punches’ and ‘The Great Curve’ because ‘Remain in Light’ is one of my favourite albums.

The incredibly talented and tight band were unencumbered by cables and the usual stage furniture so were free to inhabit the space and relish their obvious camaraderie. Their sense of fun was immediately reflected in the audience enthusiasm which elevated this evening to an experience more aligned with modern theatre than Brighton’s bland conference venue.

The show didn’t end with the classic ‘Psycho Killer’ but a more unexpected cover of Janelle Monae’s ‘Hell You Talmbout’, a song whose communally chanted names of people are the grim list of victims who inspired Black Lives Matter, killed in the most dreadful circumstances, and including Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray amongst others. Before the song Byrne suggested the audience google their names if they were unaware who they were. It echoed the themes of ‘American Utopia’ and his involvement in voter registration for the mid-term elections and possibility of change.

This was a triumphant show and one that will be remembered for setting a new benchmark in creativity. I can think of ‘Wire’ at London’s Jeanette Cochrane theatre and Grace Jones’s ‘One Man Show’ at Drury Lane among the few that I can remember that successfully pulled off originality with such aplomb. Now who, I wonder, made those two-piece grey suits?

David Byrne, live concert, 'American Utopia' ,musicians,choreography
Look, no wires: David Byrne amid his eleven musicians all playing live yet free to roam the stage

David Byrne’s year-long ‘American Utopia’ tour 2018 continues via Europe to Australia

All about David Byrne

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