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Review: HADESTOWN at Shea's  Buffalo Theatre

Review: HADESTOWN at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

A Red Hot Cast Worthy of Hades

Finding new ways to tell age old stories is as old as time. Greek and Roman mythology, passion plays and Shakespearean tales are often updated or transformed from play to musical to opera or even ballet. Most recently the Broadway stage has found a new re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in the form of the TONY Award winning musical HADESTOWN and the tour is playing at Shea's Buffalo through this Sunday.

What started as a concept album with Music, Lyrics and Book by Anais Mitchell has been fully fleshed out into a two act stage musical bringing the characters into a throwback speakeasy reminiscent of somewhere in New Orleans. The setting is not as important as the way in which Mitchell chooses to create a new musical language that is mainly character driven. Hermes is an emcee of sorts who introduces us to the characters, while commenting and occasionally entering the action. The classic Greek chorus is still employed but here called the Workers Chorus and the Fates ( the guiders on life's journey) are relegated to the classic 3 women.

The Orpheus story has been made into multiple operas, and even an operetta by Offenbach, where the well known "Can Can," later used by the Follies Bergere, has the Fates galloping to the underworld while doing the Can Can. Rodgers and Hammerstein musicalized Shakepeare's THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, and Gilbert and Sullivan's own MIKADO was updated to an all Black jazz and Gospel version.

Mitchell's unique musical style is rooted in alternative 21st century music with nods to classic jazz and blues influences. And while not inaccessible, it is hard to shoehorn it into one category. Each song, in this mostly sung through musical, tells it's own story.

The cast is uniformly excellent and the onstage band is red hot ,as one would expect in Hadestown. But the crux of the issue lies in the fact that the story, especially as played out in the first act, often lacks cohesion and begs for more focus . Do we care about Eurydice from the outset? The mythical characters are now represented and costumed in somewhat modern dress and the fantastic world of the Gods now seemed commonplace. It became a challenge to love what was unfolding, albeit sung by wonderful singers.

By the second act, the focus is regained and the long tale of Orpheus and Eurydice's ascent from hell is told in such a way that you are now rooting for their redemption.

The two other main players are Hades himself and his wife Persephone, whose rocky marriage shakes the foundation of the underworld (here called Hadestown). Re-establishing their love becomes the impetus to release Orpheus and Eurydice from hell's clutches.

Nathan Lee Grant as Hermes is a powerhouse with a strut and presence that is magnetic. His eyes enthrall from the outset, and every hand gesture commands complete attention. He brings endless joy to his performance.

As Orpheus, Nigerian-American actor Chibuze Ihuoma appears as if the role was custom written just for him. His youthful energy is matched by his glorious angelic voice. He no longer carries a lyre, but rather an electric guitar and his songs bring even the great god Hades to his mythic knees.

Hannah Whitley is the young Eurydice, perpetually down on her luck and hungry. She sells her soul to the devil himself due to hunger. Ms. Whitley appears as if she stepped out of a production of RENT, bedraggled and desperate for love. Her smooth vocals enchanted Orpheus as the two fell in love, and her heartbreak with their inevitable separation was effectively handled.

Brit West was full of spunk, and alot of alcohol, as the unhappy Persephone, who must spend half of each year in hell with her unhappy husband. Dressed as a chanteuse, reminiscent of Etta James, West looked and sounded great, especially in her ACT 2 opener "The Lady of The Underground."

That brings us to the big man himself, the ruler of the underworld, Hades, played by the amazing Matthew Patrick Quinn. The stage near shook every time Quinn stepped onstage as he sang with the commanding and booming bass voice. His authority is never to be questioned and Quinn was a master at expressing this.

The three fates included Buffalos' own Dominique Kempf, alongside Belen Moyano and Nyla Watson. All three sang with tight harmonies and exacting precision as they floated throughout the story, offering guidance and commentary.

Hadestown, as in most mythical tales is ripe with allegories. The Workers Chorus is destined to an eternity of anonymity in hell, toiling here as a chain gang, having lost the privilege of having a unique identity. The symbolism of building a wall, separating good from evil, the have from have nots, is told in the Act 1 Finale "Why We Build a Wall." This was written years before Trump took office, by the way.

Developer and Stage Director Rachel Chavkin was instrumental alongside the author in bringing this piece to the stage. With Rachels Hauck's multilevel scenic design and Bradley King's lighting, Chavkin keeps the cast onstage for most of the evening while interweaving the action and commentary into a unified sum. David Neumann's choreography was often stylistic in it's approach for an ethereal magical feeling, apropos of a mythical story.

HADESTOWN, like it or not, represents a new creative mindset for the Broadway stage of the 21st century. Linear storytelling with traditional musical comedy structure has evolved. The cast and audience are becoming more of a unified whole, often acknowledging each other, breaking the so called 4th wall of the proscenium. The sound of theatrical scores continues to mirror the music of the day, as it has since it's outset in the early 1900's. As one could imagine, the musical scores for Burt Bacharach's PROMISES,PROMISES, Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's HAMILTON were all somewhat jarring at first hearing. And now HADESTOWN , which lacks any traditional showtunes, leaves many in the audience challenged to grasp it and understand it's place in the theatrical canon.

HADESTOWN brings a multitude of fabulously talented artists to the stage and will continue to enlighten, entertain and provoke audiences. But where it fits into your personal theatrical history voyage is left up to you.

HADESTOWN runs through February 26,2023 at Shea's Buffalo theatre. Contact for more information.

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From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, A... (read more about this author)

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