By TIFFANY CHAN
Nearly nine years ago, Orpheus said, “Wait for me!” in an album called Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell. Then came a musical adaptation in 2016, yet it would widely go unnoticed until its Broadway debut on Apr. 17. 2019. Within just 24 hours of the debut, the musical would go on to be nominated for three Drama League awards, including the Outstanding Musical award.
Made as a concept album, Hadestown is widely considered as “folk opera” and features a number of musicians, one of which is Justin Vernon–the lead vocalist of the band Bon Iver–singing as the character Orpheus.
Overall, the unique vocals that mix with a classic tale result in a revitalization of the original myth Hadestown is based upon. Time and time again, the same stories are being retold from old myths and legends. Then, people like Mitchell decide to reinvent these stories in new and refreshing ways, breathing life into new artistic mediums and captivating modern audiences such as with Hadestown.
To elaborate, Hadestown is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is a tragedy in which their love is torn apart, and despite being able to sing songs that could bring Gods to tears, Orpheus could not bring his lover back from the Underworld. Simply retelling an ancient myth is never enough, however. A line in the musical is, “It’s an old song, but we’re gonna sing it again.” Not only is it being sung again, but in order to bring a new retelling forward, Mitchell places the two in an American Great-Depression inspired era. The setting can be felt with a jazzy and folk instrumental playing behind the harmonies and chanting, creating a nostalgic and classic feeling. In addition, the mood the compositions create add to the otherworldly element of the play, and allow for the audience to escape and enjoy the musical as something fantastical.
For example, there is a song called “Epic III”, where Orpheus attempts to sway Hades’ heart with a song. Of course, this is the third iteration of the song that occurs in the musical. What sets this apart is the raw emotion, and instead of him singing alone, the other cast members join in as if to display their emotions along with Orpheus. Then, when Hades calls back to Orpheus, it evokes a lonely and pained feeling from the listeners as Hades truly realizes what he’s lost while trying to hold onto his throne and love.
In addition to Hadestown’s style, the vocals are able to truly shine through. Most of the focus is on the actors and actresses, as well as the background vocals that add to the overall mood. Amber Grey, who plays Persephone, is a clear example of this, as she has a gruff and heavy tone. In her song, “Our Lady of the Underground”, the brash color of her vocals shine as she capitalizes on the depressing scenario with a little humor. She runs a Speakeasy in the Underground, doing under the table deals for people who miss nature and the skies. This shows the jaded and rebellious Goddess of Spring, refusing to give up what her husband Hades had locked away. Having songs like these allow for the individual actors and actresses to show off their talent, as well as provide insight to the character. After all, “a little moonshine ain’t no sin” to Persephone.
It is also interesting to note that with the broadway musical, there are many additions and changes from the original workshop in New York City. For example, the song Wait for Me includes an entirely new verse that adds to Orpheus’ desperation. Not to mention, most of the cast has changed, with only Patrick Page and Amber Grey remaining since the musical’s original conception.
Regardless, the current cast still performs with an amazing on-stage chemistry. In particular, Reeve Carney, who plays Orpheus is perfectly in sync with Eurydice, played by Eva Noblezada. The two have performed together since Hadestown’s London run of the show in 2018, so with the show now officially on Broadway, they can act more comfortably as a result of their past experience. With such talent and sweet vocals, it makes the tragedy of the couple even more heartbreaking.
Regardless, it is not only Orpheus and Eurydice who suffer from heartbreak. Hades and Persephone are locked in a loveless marriage, where both are blind to the others affections. Hades, who only wants to give Persephone security and shelter does not understand why she recoils from his love. Meanwhile, Persephone doesn’t care for the monetary and physical gifts as it can never buy her heart. Unable to understand each other, the two lose the thing they tried to hold onto the most and can capture a very human relationship where things are not always perfect and happy.
Despite all the misery that befalls the myth, Hadestown still allows for witty lines based on mythology and historic references. For example, in “Chant II”, Hades remarks to Orpheus that, “Women are so seasonal!” This of course, refers to his wife Persephone who is the reason for seasons being created. Even in “Chant I”, while Hades was busy showing off his industrialized kingdom, Persephone would complain nonstop, as she said “It ain’t right, and it ain’t natural!” Persephone, who loves all things natural would naturally despise the artificial lights and power lines. This adds a whole level of depth to their conversations and arguments, engaging the audience more.
Overall, this musical has so much to discuss and love. Every melody and motif are made carefully with intent, delicately building a beautifully tragic story. The idea of losing what is held closest to the heart, and being unable to recover it despite sacrificing everything will tug at the heartstrings. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is as old as time, yet this modern retelling can appeal to anyone. In the end of the musical, “Road to Hell II” says that as Persephone stepped off that train again, Spring was not the only thing in her hands. In her heart, she was “with a love song, with a tale of love that never dies. With a love song for anyone who tries.” Orpheus may have lost everything, but the hope he instilled with his music will reside in the hearts of all who care to listen.