BWW Album Review: Raising Our Cups to HADESTOWN Again and Again
If we already know how the story ends, why do we come back again and again? That's the question at the heart of Hadestown, 2019's Tony-winning best musical, whose full Broadway cast recording is out now. With a score by Anais Mitchell that's alternately jazzy, ethereal, and devastating, it makes you believe that music really could change the world.
Longtime fans of Hadestown will recognize the bulk of the music from its previous iterations, albeit altered in places and with new voices at times. Andre De Shields takes on the role of Hermes, a more nuanced character than ever, and shepherds us through the proceedings from the first signature trombone notes of "Road to Hell" to the its devastating finale reprise that brings us full circle. De Shields has an unmistakable voice, imbuing Hermes with a hint of mischief that keeps us all on our toes. While Hermes is our supportive omniscient presence, there's an opposite number to him: the Fates, the vaguely sinister but musically thrilling trio (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad) who whisper in everyone's ears, personifying doubt and fear.
It's ultimately Orpheus and Eurydice's story that drives us forward, and Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada bear that weight well. Carney's voice isn't quite as idiosyncratic as many of the other voices we hear, but he sings beautifully and with a clarity that makes it not hard at all to believe that a dreamer with a voice like that just might be able to sing a song beautiful enough to change the way the world works. The "Epics" are Orpheus's musical through-line, but it's "Wait For Me," with a new bridge section that's become the musical's most iconic moment, in which Carney get the chance to shine. "Doubt Comes In," in contrast, is utterly devastating.
Noblezada is one of the brightest young stars on Broadway, and Eurydice gives her a chance to explore a character that, in the original myth, is a cipher, but in this story is a fierce, sometimes cynical pragmatist. Her moments of conflict, like "Gone I'm Gone" and "Flowers," paint a quietly heartbreaking portrait. There's a playfulness present in "Wedding Song" that slowly fades, and it's stunning.
Orpheus and Eurydice may be the leading lovers in this story, but it's Hades and Persephone who inescapably steal the show. With his gravelly, menacing bass, you're simultaneously enthralled and terrified by Hades during "Chant" and "Hey Little Songbird." It's easy for Hades, the god of the underworld, to get a bad rap in contemporary culture (thanks, Disney!), but despite becoming a symbol of authoritarianism and late-stage capitalism, you actually root for Page's Hades to rediscover his humanity (or whatever the god-equivalent is). The music helps you draw the parallels between him and Orpheus: two lovers who have lost their way and neglected the ones they love.
As Persephone, meanwhile, Amber Gray is clearly having a blast as a good-time gal with a bittersweet life. "Livin' It Up on Top" and "Our Lady of the Underground" are jazzy, boozy speakeasy songs. But Persephone's not just a party girl, and Gray captures all of her bitterness, longing, and repressed hope. Gray's got one of the most unique, distinctive voices on Broadway right now, and Mitchell's score takes full advantage of every quirk.
It's easy to overlook the ensemble in some scores - but in Hadestown, they're at the core of what makes the show tick. On the surface, it may look like a show about two intertwined love stories, but the second the ensemble of workers joins in, there's a whole new layer to be found. Suddenly, the show is a lot more political - and no, not just because of the chillling "Why We Build the Wall" (which, for the record, was written years before the current administration). It's the repeated choruses of "keep your head low" as the workers lose themselves and their identities in endless labor.
When the workers' chorus follows Eurydice and Orpheus in "Wait for Me (Reprise)," their chant of "if you can do it so can she / if she can do it so can we" doesn't just add a new layer of dramatic stakes to Orpheus's desperate rescue attempt: it also brings to the forefront an idea of unity in labor as a means of breaking a destructive cycle. The idea that a single idea can spark an uprising, but only if everyone does their part, is frightening and inspiring all at once.
The ending of Hadestown isn't surprising in the least - as Hermes points out from the very beginning, we always know what's going to happen. Mitchell's final songs, "Road to Hell (Reprise)" and "We Raise Our Cups," lean into that and question why we bother when we already know it's going to end this way. It's hope: hope that defines us as humankind, hope that "it might turn out this time," hope that maybe this time, the world will be the way it could be. For that, I raise my cup to Hadestown every time.