Review: Hadestown National Tour Smolders Without Lighting a Fire
The Tony-winning musical comes to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
There's a gargantuan myth surrounding the opening of Hadestown at the Ahmanson Theatre. Not the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, which this musical does borrow, but the legend of the juggernaut Broadway production that opened in April 2019. Arriving with 14 Tony nominations and eight awards in tow, the production almost dares the audience to not be absorbed by the fandom and hype. So, it is difficult to tell if it's the current tour casting or the play itself, but Hadestown in Los Angeles underwhelms.
At the gateway to the underworld, saloon patrons drink and sing, led by the Greek god of travel, Hermes (Levi Kreis, Tony winner for Million Dollar Quartet). A poor poet, Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), falls instantly in love with a wandering moppet, Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green). A train ride away, Hades (Kevyn Morrow) seethes as his wife, Persephone (Kimberly Marable), gets her allotted six months of freedom among the living – according to the myth, Persephone's travels bring about the seasons on Earth.
When Hades discovers Eurydice, he allows the three conniving fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne) to make the lost girl so desperately cold and hungry that she has no choice but to sign an agreement with him to be a prisoner of his kingdom, Hadestown. When Orpheus discovers his love has been snatched up and is a captive, he makes the impossible journey to save her. Hades, a narcissistic and proud god, has some tricks up his sleeve.
The score by folk singer Anaïs Mitchell contains some intriguing tunes, mostly creole- and jazz-influenced. "Way Down Hadestown" and "Road to Hell" sound like rousing New Orleans street marches. "Wait for Me" would have made a thrilling Act 1 finale à la Les Mis's "One Day More," yet oddly, the show adds another number after, "Why We Build the Wall," which seems more suited to open Act 2 than to land after this hero's quest number.
Mitchell's book is problematic. The love between Orpheus and Eurydice seems rushed, and as a hero, Orpheus is wishy-washy and unlikeable. He does go to Hadestown for his love, but he wouldn't have lost her had he not been focused on his song and not his girlfriend's immediate disappearance. Though the original myth ending is tragic, as presented in Hadestown, Orpheus turning back to look at Eurydice at the very end comes off immature. Since the play does away with Orpheus after his folly, it's no wonder the audience may feel like investing in his character had been a waste of time.
Many of the issues seem to stem from how director Rachel Chavkin handles the current company. Levi Kreis as the narrator slurs many of his words and appears tentative throughout, more like a televangelist than the person meant to lead us through the story, so the audience is lost and deprived of a hook into the tale. Barasch has a lovely voice, but most of Orpheus's songs are in a high register. His falsetto sounds nasally and shrill. Green also has a beautiful voice, but the play doesn't give her enough time to shine.
The standouts are Morrow and Marable as the King and Queen of Hadestown. Morrow has a frightening lower registry that manages to make Hades both revoltingly cruel and pathetically lonely. Marable is delightful stealing the stage in her big numbers, "Livin' It Up on Top" and "Our Lady of the Underground." She grounds Persephone's adoration for Hades so that we believe Hades's heart can melt when he's reminded of their pure love. The Chorus/Muses sound riveting together in the group numbers.
David Neumann's choreography is animalistic and crafty. The set by Rachel Hauck is an arousing Southern joint, decrepit but full of spirit. The costumes by Michael Krass are inventively pauper-chic with elements of steampunk. The phenomenal lighting design by Bradley King utilizes fog lights, spots, and swinging overhead lamps to create tension and otherworldly terror.
Hadestown is an original new work from a burgeoning talent. Ahmanson venue is vaster than the smaller space of Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre, and the show cries out for intimacy. Maybe in a space like the Kirk Douglas, where most of the audience is in closer proximity of the cast, the musical would have resonated better. But with the current cast at the current theater, Hadestown is a pleasant pastime but not a revelation.