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…
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’.
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.
* 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.