At the Ahmanson Theatre, the Tony-Award Winning Musical rocks the house with energy and passion while communicating an undercurrent of 21st century polemics
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 04/29/2022 – With music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown re-envisions ancient Greek mythology, reimagining the tale of Orpheus and his journey into the underworld to rescue his one true love Eurydice. Presented by the Center Theatre Group beyond Broadway, the North American Tour has now come to the Ahmanson Theatre. With an undeniable bravado, the mesmerizing show does not stop moving forward like a passionate runaway train from the first moment to the very end.
As developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown sets one of the prototypical examples of Greek mythology in the sweltering summer heat of legendary New Orleans and the birth of the Jazz age in the United States. Without question, the setting helps enhance the storyline as revolutionary themes and class inequalities simmer below the narrative’s surface. Indeed, there is a sense that Anaïs Mitchell was prescient when she wrote the book and the lyrics in the early part of the 21st century. The evil of the underworld feels like a condemnation of Trump’s America, where walls are built to separate the grotesque rich from the deluded poor.
Many choices are made in the production that helps support the storyline’s theme. For example, both Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) and Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) are played by actors that are small in stature. He is close to being the smallest man in the cast, and she is close to being the smallest woman. At times, it feels like the power of the narrative and the driving force of the songs will blow them off the stage. Despite their resounding voices and strong presence on stage, there is a real sense of vulnerability and mortality. Indeed, they are flawed human beings caught in the grips of a storm of mythology.
At the heart of the mythological storm, Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable) reign supreme. In traditional mythology, Persephone is the innocent daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the Goddess of the Harvest. When Hades kidnaps her to be his wife in the underworld, Demeter goes into mourning, and winter falls upon the earth. In the end, Persephone makes a bargain with Hades to spend half the year with him and half the year in the growing fields of the earth, under her beloved sun. Thus, the Greeks explain the onset of winter every year by her absence.
However, in Hadestown, the best reimagining of the mythology happens with this character. Persephone is not so innocent, and she cannot help but be attracted to the darkness within her husband. As played by Kimberly Marable, she overflows with desire as the good girl with a bad side that needs to be satisfied. Throughout the musical, the dynamic performance of Marable captures the stage and the audience with a wicked smile, longing vocals, and a conflict of desire.
The political undertones of Hadestown cannot be denied. As Hades, Kevyn Morrow is an industrial capitalist gone mad, relishing in the exploitation of his workers. Since his workers are dead souls condemned to the underworld, he knows that he has the ideal post-capitalist workforce that can never escape the drudgery of their work.
In a bevy of riches, two more aspects of the musical need to be underlined. As the narrator of the musical, Levi Kreis’s performance as the Greek God Hermes holds the story together. Often, the character provides essential introductions and transitions, allowing the narrative flow to succeed. Moreover, his body control and lyrical presence are riveting as he takes over the stage whenever he performs. Indeed, the man is the show’s impresario, keeping it moving forward, even when his sympathies for the fate of Orpheus are denied.
The most ominous characters in the storyline are the Fates. Also presented as the Furies or the Kindly Ones, the Fates are three demi-goddesses that control the thread of a person’s life from birth to death. If the person commits certain blood crimes, the Fates become the Furies, enacting vengeance. As the three Fates, Shea Renne, Bex Odorisio, and Beln Moyano are a mysterious, ominous presence on stage. It often feels like they are weaving the worst. Perhaps they provide the lasting warning of Hadestown to a 21st century audience: If we do not learn from our histories and our mythologies, if we ignore the lessons of the past, then we are doomed to repeat the same grievous and even fatal mistakes, over and over again.
(Photos: T. Charles Erickson)