Review: HADESTOWN at Ahmanson Theatre

Living' it Up in The Underworld

By: May. 05, 2022
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Review: HADESTOWN at Ahmanson Theatre

On stage, a lot of folks go to great lengths to flee the underworld, also known as Hadestown. Theater audiences, on the other hand, can't seem to get enough of that very jazzy realm, and for good reason. HADESTOWN, the too-hot musical by Anais Mitchell directed by Rachel Chavkin, is a scorcher. Masterfully sung, elegantly staged and with a sensibility so romantic it could physically knock you over, the national tour of the 2019 Tony Award-winning musical parks at the Ahmanson through the end of May. See it or risk incurring the fury of Hades.

Actually, Hades, the distinguished gentleman who presides over an underground factory of lost souls bearing his name, doesn't really get rageful. He's more of a thinker, a schemer who gets smacked around by unfamiliar emotions and then does some smacking around of his own. At the Ahmanson, Kevyn Morrow makes Hades a scary individual, a boss you do not want to cross. This is an old man ill-equipped to deal with a younger wife and the vagaries of love that come with that union. We can feel his anguish as acutely as that of the younger folks whose lives Hades claims. And as the top dog, Morrow cuts a most splendid figure in the suit fashioned by costume designer Michael Krass. (Along with pretty much every other member of the production team, Krass's costumes are Tony-nominated; the performance took home eight.)

Also on scene and borrowed from Greek mythology are a trio of Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne, simultaneously ghostly and sexy), not as powerful as Hades but equipped with a certain power of sway, and Hermes (Levi Kreis), messenger of the gods, protector of certain humans and our narrator. Decked out in a suit too cool for the room, Kreis cuts an impressive figure and also has a voice fit for the Gods.

Set somewhere in the midst of the Great Depression in a speakeasy that sorta kinda suggests New Orleans, HADESTOWN combines the myths of Hades and Persephone with that of Orpheus and Eurydice. Should you choose to, er, look back at that latter tale, you'll know how this one ends. Mitchell is juxtaposing a pair of love stories - one doomed, the other eternal - which she filters through an examination of labor conditions. Wayward soul Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) inks her deal with the Lord of the Underworld not because she does not or cannot love speakeasy busboy Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), but because she's alone and worried about being left cold and unprotected. The working conditions in the underworld aren't primo, but a job's a job, right?

In spring and summer when up on earth, Persephone (Kimberly Marable) is the club's star attraction, a lady who can sing boozily and conspiratorially in "Our Lady of The Underground" about the ways she does her husband wrong. But this queen also has a heart. Touched by Orpheus's plight, she intercedes on his behalf, trying to convince Hades to let Eurydice out of her contract and the kids leave.

Of course, if degrees of love could be measured in heat, then Barasch's Orpheus would keep Eurydice forever at 105. That's how over the moon this cat is. A busboy by day, Orpheus is a guitar-wielding songwriter perpetually at work on a tune which - if finished - could actually change the seasons. Barasch sings like an angel, delivering a rich tenor that slides effortlessly into aching falsetto. His continual rendition of that magical song "Epic 1, 2 and 3" would win any uncertain heart or thaw any vengeful underworld lord. Our Orpheus is also handy with magically producing paper flowers, a skill that a couple other folks in Hadestown seem to possess as well when the spirit moves them.

Rachel Hauck's split-level stage places the club and its musicians in full audience view. The space transforms to the underground factory with the help of evocative lighting by Bradley King, and a garage-like door that is essentially the gateway to hell. In the second act, director Chavkin and choreographer David Neumann make liberal use of a revolving turntable, piloting Eurydice and a chorus of underworld workers. The journeys both to and from Hadestown are similarly moody and evocative.

Thanks to the pandemic, regional theaters nationwide have been waiting quite awhile for HADESTOWN to arrive so we could see if whether the product matched the hype. The delay has been more than worth it. While Broadway audiences are enjoying the work of original stars Andre De Shields, Patrick Page, Reeve Carney and Eve Noblezada, their touring counterparts are turning up the heat in hell. The musical also polished the star of Mitchell and director Chavkin whose next new musical is SoCal bound: LEMPICKA, coming to the La Jolla Playhouse in June.

HADESTOWN plays through May 29 at the Ahmanson Theatre and will play the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa August 9-21. Information and tickets: click here.

Photo of (L-R) Morgan Siobhan Green and Nicholas Barasch by T Charles Erickson.


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