“Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell — should stick around for a while.
Although the production has lost some of the electricity that goes with playing in the round, director Rachel Chavkin (“Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812”), who also helped with the show’s development, has done a super job of adapting this pretty thing for a proscenium stage. What it loses scenically — namely, a visual sense of the arduous nature of the hero’s journeys to and from the underworld — it makes up for in other ways.
A helpful program note offers a bit of classical background for anyone who doesn’t recall that Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) were more-than-mortal lovers torn apart when Eurydice died and went to Hades. Or that the poet Orpheus took his enchanted lyre and descended into those Stygian depths to bring her back. The storytelling is spare, but the visuals say it all, helped along by the melodious voice and slip-sliding dance moves of the indomitable André De Shields as the swift-footed god Hermes, as well as by the three gorgeous, golden-throated Fates played by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad.
The world on top looks (and sounds) a bit like New Orleans (“Livin’ It Up on Top”), especially in the hands of a terrific seven-piece onstage orchestra whose trombonist was born to wail. But the real action happens in hell, depicted here by the entire company in a rousing number, “Way Down Hadestown,” that could make the dead dance. Here, Hades (Patrick Page, in imposing form and thunderous voice), the fearsome King of the Underworld, torments the souls of the damned by chaining them to an infernal machine that goes nowhere but must be kept in perpetual motion — one memorable vision in a production full of striking images.
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In the seductive “Hey, Little Songbird,” Hades spies the newly dead Eurydice and makes a move to claim her. Lucky for her, the seasons have turned and winter has come, bringing the goddess Persephone (played by the goddess Amber Gray), patron of spring and fertility, to rule for six months as Queen of the Underworld. With this goddess in residence, the King will get no action tonight — or for the next six months. Dazzling in a gown of spring-bud green and full of life even among the dead, Gray tosses her curls and Persephone claims her throne in Hadestown (“Our Lady of the Underground”), keeping this rowdy party, choreographed by David Neumann, going through the dead of winter.
Despite the lusty partying that goes on, Hadestown is still a place of frightening darkness (and fiery, fearsome redness, in Bradley King’s lighting design). And while neither Mitchell nor her director makes an overt attempt to put a contemporary spin on the material, there is one number, “Why We Build the Wall,” that clearly resonates.