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BWW Review: HADESTOWN at Ohio Theater

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The show from Hell turns out to be perfect Covid antidote for Ohio Theater crowd

BWW Review: HADESTOWN at Ohio Theater

Even before patrons of the opening night of HADESTOWN arrived at the Ohio Theater (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus), the lush red seats were being filled. On top of each seat was a red carnation, thanking attendees for returning to the theater after a long shutdown due to the Covid 19 virus.

Pick your own time measurement but it has been a year and a half (or 20 months, 88 weeks, 613 days, or 14,700 hours) since Columbus has gotten to experience a Broadway Series musical. However, the Nov. 16 production of HADESTOWN was well worth the wait.

Some theatre diehards would have seen a musical version of MARCH OF THE PENGUINS or even a show about singing cats just to be back in the confines of the Ohio Theater for a Broadway Series production. However, HADESTOWN, which won eight Tony awards including best musical, is a perfect post pandemic metaphor.

The show features Persephonie, a Greek goddess whose return from the underworld signals the beginning of spring. That's what this production felt like. The temperatures may have been in the mid-30s, but the warmth and glow of HADESTOWN made it feel like spring again.

Amongst the feel-good ambiance is the very dark, very old story that dates back to ancient Greece: boy meets girl, boy can't afford girl, and girl is wooed by the Lord of the Underworld. Sly Hermes (played by Levis Kreis) serves as the narrator through a love parallelogram that features Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) and Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) on the upbeat side and Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable) on the dreary side.

Persephone and Hades are a couple in serious need of marriage counseling. The Lord of the Underworld allows Persephone, the goddess of the season, out of Hell for six months of the year. During that time, Persephone brings her own special cocktail of sunshine, fun shine, and moonshine to the people above. When Hades begins to bring Persephone back earlier and earlier, the people above find it harder to grow crops, produce food, and survive.

Among the strugglers is Eurydice, who is in constant need of sustenance. When Orpheus comes upon her, the earnest songwriter is lovestruck immediately. In the song, "Come Home with Me," Hermes warns Orpheus, "Don't come on too strong." Yet Orpheus' first two pick-up lines are "Come home with me" and "(I'm) the man who's going to marry you." Eurydice looks over at Hermes incredulously and asks, "Is he always like this?" Hermes glumly shakes his head yes.

Orpheus is always one hit song away from charming all living things. However, when that song continuously eludes Orpheus, Eurydice sees Hades as a means of survival and agrees to follow him into the underworld.

The friction between the two worlds leads to a gut-punch ending two and a half hours later.

Kreis, a Tony Award winner for originating the role of Jerry Lee Lewis in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, is a charismatic bolt of energy as the story's narrator Hermes. All Kreis had to do to win over the crowd was step on stage, unbutton his sports coat, and reveal a twinkling ensemble and a roguish smile.

Barasch and Green make a vibrant pair of star-crossed lovers. Barasch has done everything from being nominated for the Drama Desk award for his role in SHE LOVES ME to starring as Austin the Purple Kangaroo on season 4 of THE BACKYARDIGANS. His melodic high tenor voice conveys his character's dreamy, optimistic outlook compared to Green's world-weary Mezzo-Soprano. Yet by the end of the play, Green's Eurydice becomes more trusting while Barasch's Orpheus transforms into a more guarded, more cautious person.

Marable and Morrow provide a gloomy counterbalance to the joyous sounds of Orpheus and Eurydice. As Hades, Morrow's icy bass provides the foundations of the showstopping "Why We Build The Wall" and "His Kiss, The Riot." Marable's sassy turns on "Livin' It Up on Top" and "Our Lady of the Underground" showcases her exquisite Mezzo-Soprano voice. The two's anti-chemistry complements their voices. Marable can do more with an eyeroll than most actors can do with their whole bodies while Morrow is transfixing when he goes from a smile to a sneer to a frown.

The depth of the show goes far beyond the five principal actors. As The Fates, Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne flaunt a wide range of acting, vocal, and instrumental skills, especially in numbers, "Word to the Wise," and "Nothing Changes." The workers chorus, featuring Lindsey Hailes, Chibueze Ihuoma, Will Mann, Sydney Parra, and Jamari Johnson Williams, give the show a muscular backbone that HADESTOWN wouldn't be able to stand without.

One of the striking features of the show is conductors Cody Owen Stine (piano) and Jacob Yates (cello) as well as Michiko Egger (guitar), Maria Im (violin), Anthony Johnson (drums), Calvin Jones (double bass), and Audrey Ochoa (trombone and glockenspiel), are onstage and interacting with the other performers rather than being buried in an orchestra pit. Even the lighting, which transforms the underworld from an ominous fiery furnace to a gloomy gray dungeon, plays a part in the show.

Despite winning eight Tony awards, some theater novices may not be familiar with HADESTOWN. It wasn't like it was HADELTON or DEAR EVAN HADES on the average fan's anticipation scale. Let's hope the season's opening show is the beginning of a bright and beautiful post pandemic season.

HADESTOWN's final performances are: 7 p.m. Nov. 18; 8 p.m. Nov. 19; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 20, and 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Ohio Theater (39 E. State Street). For ticket information, contact the CbusArts Ticket Center at 614-469-0939.


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