After a long history of development, “Hadestown” emerges as the hottest, most rhythmic, eye-popping musical on Broadway at the moment. Inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the show explodes with entertaining performances and catchy music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell, who also wrote the very workable book that takes extensive liberties in adapting the myth for this staging. An army of producers have brought the finished product to Broadway, including the British National Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop, both having staged previous versions. Now nearly everything works splendidly.
The show, developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, comes alive the minute veteran André De Shields saunters on stage as Hermes to serve as narrator. He is super cool as he flashes his silvery vest, indulges in slick moves and delivers lines with winking smoothness, as if he were about to lead us on an excursion into blues territory.
Musicians are ensconced on both sides of the stage, with a drummer in a raised box in the middle, and wow, how they play the almost non-stop score that can ignite audience feet tapping. The set, resembling a vast, multi-level music hall stage, has been cleverly designed by Rachel Hauck. There is fabulous, versatile lighting designed by Bradley King, and excellent sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.
Getting to the heart of the tale, we have Eva Noblezada as the waif-like, impoverished Eurydice, who reminded me of the early Leslie Caron and who sings impressively. Reeve Carney, whose voice hits high registers, plays Orpehus as a poor working lad who is trying to write a song but is frustrated at not being able to complete it. He and Eurydice fall for each other, but Eurydice descends into hell and Orpheus must meet the challenge of rescuing her.
Patrick Page as the mighty Hades has a booming bass voice that adds to his menacing control. Persephone as his wife is played by Amber Gray, and she is terrific in her sexy, frenetic dancing, as in her “Our Lady of the Underground” number. A singing and dancing chorus depict Hades as a factory-like place of forced labor. There are also the commenting Fates, played with pizzazz by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad. The choreography by David Neumann is a highlight of this production, which is nearly always in motion.
Although written before the Trump presidency, the intense song “Why We Build the Wall,” in this context to keep out the poor, registers topically. The numbers are very varied. There is the defining “All I’ve Ever Known” sung by Eurydice and Orpheus. Hades, along with the company, sings “Papers,” pertaining to Eurydice signing an agreement to belong to him.
After Orpheus trudges to Hades to rescue his love, ultimately they can both depart under the dire condition that if Orpheus looks back to see if Eurydice is following him, she is doomed to return to Hades. “Hadestown” has it both ways, sadly ending after Orpheus cannot resist succumbing to his need to see Eurydice. But then Hermes slyly leads a return to the beginning, when Eurydice first appears, to suggest that maybe if it happened all over again the outcome could be different.
As you can see, I was captivated by the superbly integrated show, with its appealing performances, avalanche of effective songs as part of its jazzy score, great choreography and staging, and the seven-piece expert band that continued to play even after the curtain call. Sorry, but I can’t resist resorting to the easy play on words: “Hadestown” is a hell of a show. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 21, 2019.