REVIEW: Hadestown offers up a sonic feast

click to enlarge REVIEW: Hadestown offers up a sonic feast
Kevin Berne
Hadestown is basically one long concert. And that's not really a problem.
There's an old adage that heaven might be nice, but hell's more fun. While the heaven/hell dichotomy doesn't translate smoothly to Greek myths about the underworld, Hadestown suggests hellish afterlife at the very least boasts a pretty killer playlist.

Hadestown presents a reimagining of the Greek myth of lovers Orpheus and Eurydice. In the original story (and this staged version), Orpheus ventures to return his wife Eurydice from the land of the undead aided by the power of music, only to meet a cruel and tragic fate. Rather than Greek traditional music, Hadestown blends Creole jazz and folk music to weave its tale. Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell's 2019 Tony-winner for Best Musical currently is making a week-long stop in Spokane at the First Interstate Center for the Arts (running through July 10), an extremely early Inland Northwest visit for a recent Broadway hit.

There's no need to beat around the bush — Hadestown is all about the music. The seven-piece band even sits on stage the entire show (minus the drummer backstage), giving things the feel of being in a balmy bayou jazz club. Really, it would probably be more accurate to label the show an opera rather than a traditional Broadway musical. There aren't any acted out scenes among characters, just song after song connected occasionally by a line or two from Hermes (Levi Kreis), who doubles as the show's narrator.

But the musical onslaught is actually a good thing because of the quality of the tunes. While some musicals can suffer from only having one or two standout tunes, Hadestown only has a couple tunes which aren't at least very good. It's not a collection of earworms that you'll be humming leaving the theater, but there also aren't a load of clunkers in the mix. The songs have an incredibly high floor.

And that floor is elevated greatly by the sheer talent of the performers in this cast. In terms of touring Broadway shows, it might be the second best assemblage of vocal talent I've ever seen. Chibueze Ihuoma puts on an absolute tour de force as Orpheus. His voice is able to hit angelic highs with such tenderness that it's legitimately breathtaking, and the fact that he's also playing guitar while hitting those notes much of the time makes the feat even more impressive (I would easily pay good money just to watch him sing in any concert setting).

Eurydice is no slouch either in the hands of Morgan Siobhan Green, who'd easily stand out as a vocal force in most any show not paired opposite Ihuoma. Especially early in the show, Eurydice's rougher-edge vulnerability plays well in contrast to Orpheus' wide-eyed optimism.

Kevyn Morrow brings a sinister bassy edge to Hades, which makes the couple's plight feel truly menacing. Kimberly Marable, as Hades' wife Persephone, knocks 'em dead in her Act II-starting sultry jazz diva showpiece, "Our Lady of the Underground." And Kreis' Hermes struts with a snake oil salesman swagger that brings bravado and levity to the show in spots where that's needed. And the Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne) add a spiritual chorus vibe to the proceedings by creeping around the stage to add vocal melodies, accordion accompaniment, dramatic string flairs, and hand percussion.
click to enlarge REVIEW: Hadestown offers up a sonic feast (2)
Kevin Berne
Chibueze Ihuoma (Orpheus) and his stunning voice are undeniable.
While the music is incredibly hard to knock in a vacuum,  its overwhelming thrust leads to the issues with the show.  The quick pace jaunting from song to song makes the characters feels a bit shallow and inhibits full emotional investment in their plights. It seems that Orpheus and Eurydice meet, fall for each other, and then are separated so quickly — almost haphazardly — because it all takes place over a few tunes without a ton of closeness between the two. It's broad stroke storytelling that diminishes the eventually tragedies the couple faces.

The political messages weaved into the narrative also feel a bit clunky. With narrative themes touching on class divides and underworld unionization, it'd be easy for the uninformed to think the show is trying to be hyper-in-the-moment, when actually the first versions of the show were staged in 2006. A tune like "Why We Build the Wall" is almost eye-rollingly on the nose with it's message, but also the thematic conclusion essentially seems to be a depressingly hollow brand of false hope — "things are absolutely never going to get better, but we're gonna keep doing the same thing over and over hoping it changes!"

The staging of the show is extremely simple, with one relatively static set representing the land of the living, Hades, and everything else in between. The only showy element is the lighting, which occasionally opens up to disorient the audience with blinding brightness. Really, it feels like a show that would absolutely crush in an intimate, immersive space, but feels a bit small in the cavernous confines of First Interstate Center for the Arts.

Still, in spite of some obvious shortcomings, the songs are enough to make the production worth any musical theater lover's time. It's all about contextualizing what you're actually getting from the show. Hadestown might not be an elite-level musical, but it blows most concerts out of the water.

Hadestown • Thru July 10; Wed-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sat at 2pm, Sun at 1 pm and 6:30 pm • $52-$100 • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • • 509-279-7000

Summer Improv Chaos @ Blue Door Theatre

Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Aug. 26
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...