Anaïs Mitchell Touches Our Hearts, Updates Musical Myths
by Jordan Freed
A penetrating trombone rips into a brassy solo and Hermes (seductive Levi Kreis), our divine narrator, starts spinning his tale in a gravelly, soulful tone:
See, someone’s got to tell the tale
Whether or not it turns out well
Maybe it will turn out this time.
We’re in a smoky jazz club, plucked straight out of the French Quarter by expert scenic designer Rachel Hauck. Later, when we journey below, the set expands to reveal a grimy, hellish factory floor with workers bent over their labor.
As Hades, Kevyn Morrow tantalizes us with his seductively deep, dulcet voice and a dangerous smile. Morrow’s God of the Underworld embodies a trickster Devil waiting at the crossroads to capture innocents.
His opposite, young lover Orpheus labors to compose a ballad that will melt Hades’ hardened corporate heart, and bring back the joys of Spring. Youthful love battles old power with song. As Orpheus, Nicholas Barasch looks the part of a Greek hero, moving like a lithe statue in motion.
Orpheus’ beloved, spirited Eurydice (striking Morgan Siobhan Green) kindles our empathy. Although she has found true love, “When the chips are down . . .” she falls victim to Hades’ empty offer of “security.”
We are constantly reminded that Orpheus’s true gift lies in his ability to help us see the world as it could be, in a better form than now. The lost souls trapped in the mines of Underworld have even forgotten who they are, resigned to an eternity forging Lord Hades’ vision of greed and endless labor.
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall!
Hades sells them on building a wall that keeps them his prisoners.
Composer, lyricist, and writer Anaïs Mitchell explores why we continually retell this tragic myth, with an exceptionally satisfying answer. She keeps much of the original myth —love at first sight, the Hero’s Journey, confronting doubt—while updating the story with stirring songs and scenes of oppression. Her demand for compassion towards the workforce feels poignant and touching.
My personal favorite, elegant Kimberly Marable as feisty “Our Lady of the Underground” Queen Persephone, returns in Act II with an opening song that brings down the house. Marable has a blast as a dancer and her impassioned moves express heart and soul.
Lighting Designer Bradley King works miracles with bright lights, oncoming trains, and intimate tableaux. When Orpheus descends into the Underworld, swinging lamps silhouette his statuesque figure, accenting Barasch’s fiery red hair.
On his fateful return journey, the menacing Fates stalk our hero, lit in flashes by eerie glows from oil lamps. We feel the torture of his solo confrontation with industrial might.
By the end, songwriter Mitchell pulls off an astonishing trick. Right up to the fateful climax, we hope for a better outcome:
‘Cause here’s the thing
To know how it ends
And still begin to sing it again
As if it might turn out this time
I learned that from a friend of mine.
Like all who hear the song of Orpheus, we can see the world not as it is, but as the joyful, loving place it could be. That alone is worth the magical, musical train ride, way down to Hadestown.
“Hadestown” music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell, directedby Rachel Chavkin, choreography by David Neumann, at BroadwaySF, Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco. Info: BroadwaySF – to July 3, 2022.
Cast: Nicholas Barasch, Morgan Siobhan Green, Levi Kreis, Kimberly Marable, Kevyn Morrow, Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne, Tyla Collier, Ian Coulter-Buford,
Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Alex Lugo, Sydney Parra, Eddie Noel Rodríguez, J. Antonio Rodriguez, Jamari Johnson Williams, and Marquis Wood.
Banner photo: top: Kevyn Morrow & Kimberly Marable; below: Nicholas Barasch, Levi Kreis, Morgan Siobhan Green. Photos: T Charles Erickson