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Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center

The Best Musical Tony winner is a mesmerizing blend of rousing musical performances and a poetically-reimagined classic story

Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center
Chibueze Ihuoma. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Admittedly, as someone easily intimidated by "the classics" (sorry, but I will always prefer Sondheim over Shakespeare every time), the prospect of seeing a reimagined version---albeit, a modernized, musical theater one---of a classic Greek myth involving a pair of doomed lovers feels more like a homework assignment rather than a fun night out in the theater.

But, thankfully, the show in question is the deservedly-acclaimed HADESTOWN, the 2019 Broadway musical with music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell that swept multiple Tony Awards including wins for Best Original Score, Best Director, and Best Musical.

An enchanting, deeply resonant, and wholly entertaining reimagining of an ancient tragedy of love and loss, the show's impressive touring company---now on stage at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through August 21, 2022---is not just some oversimplified myth diluted for mass consumption (and comprehension), but rather a beautifully layered piece of imaginative theater that stirs as it entertains.

Creatively rich and palpably performed with heart, power, and gusto, HADESTOWN, I dare say, is easily the best touring Broadway production to have performed in Southern California this season.

Riveting, thought-provoking, and emotionally-searing from start to finish, HADESTOWN---helmed and co-developed by director Rachel Chavkin---expertly blends the fantastical sounds and flavors of New Orleans Jazz with a resonating, poetically-presented narrative that echoes eerily of our current times.

Interwoven within its mythic source material are themes that touch on contemporary ailments that plague modern life such as economic disparity, the urgency of climate change, and the dangerous practices of those with wealth, privilege, and power. The metaphor of hell being portrayed as a dystopian nightmare of overworked, enslaved workers forever churning steam-spewing machinery all at the command of an evil authoritarian overlord certainly doesn't get lost in translation here.

And, yes, the show even has a shudder-inducing song about society's privileged few building walls in order to keep out the poor---blamed as a scapegoat for the world's problems (funny enough, this show and that song were devised long before a certain totalitarian leader adamant about building walls came into power).

But as the audience is entranced by its dark story, at the same time, the show is also a lively showcase for great musicianship, both from its terrific on-stage jazz troupe led by musical director Nathan Koci, as well as from its top-notch ensemble cast, led by its five charismatic main players inspired by important figures in Greek mythology. Thankfully, this cast does not have a single weak link in the bunch... and, I must say, these are some of the most spectacular, harmonious voices you will hear in a touring musical.

Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center
Morgan Siobhan Green and Chibueze Ihuoma. Photo by Kevin Berne.

From its curiously hushed first few minutes, to its spirited center, and, finally, to its poignant final toast of an ending, HADESTOWN uses its purposely crafted music and visuals to mesmerize the rapt audience to sit up and take notice at every turn.

As I stated, one of HADESTOWN's best attributes is its music, and Mitchell's fiery jazz score---filled with genre-encompassing songs that traverse every emotion on the spectrum---is the perfect soundtrack for a show about love, temptation, and, ultimately, tragedy.

Visually, the show is a gorgeous revelation. Its moody New Orleans-inspired scenic design by Tony winner Rachel Hauck is the perfect backdrop for the narrative's retooled story to play out as it serves not only as an earthly haven for both decadent and dilapidated delights but also, later, as a sweltering fiery pit of harsh living. Paired stirringly with the evocative (also Tony Award-winning) lighting designs provided by Bradley King, the setting becomes a living, breathing character itself, with its moody lighting an almost otherworldly presence that comes alive and gets knowingly punctuated with every important moment in the show. Meanwhile, Michael Krass' modern, post-apocalyptic costumes fits the environment's color palette well as does David Neumann's gorgeously lyrical choreography which evokes an almost otherworldly, alien-like quality, as if the players are all locked in a puppeteered, inescapable trance.

At its core, HADESTOWN retells the ultimately tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice, a pair of doomed lovers, here played by Chibueze Ihuoma and Morgan Siobhan Green, respectively. Both appealing and talented actors, they are blessed with impressive singing voices, and they both give their refreshed characters a humanity and gravitas that resonate even to the farthest seats in the theater.

In this version of the myth, Orpheus is recast as a young, naive innocent who labors as what I can only describe as a lowly busboy at a popular New Orleans jazz club that serves as a sanctuary catering to artists, bohemians, and ne'er-do-wells. A sensitive poet and budding songwriter at heart, Orpheus is mentored by Greek god Hermes (played by riff-tastic Tony winner Levi Kreis), here personified as a wise, fourth wall-breaking narrator dressed in finely tailored suits and possessing a crooner's gospel-tinged vocal stylings, who sees both potential and tragedy in the young man.

As another summer arrives, so too does climate change-induced inhospitable heat and starvation. Most affected by society's poverty and lack of sustenance---no doubt exacerbated by this harsh weather---is pretty but poor street urchin Eurydice, who arrives at Hermes' club seeking aid and relief.

Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center
First National Tour of HADESTOWN. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Naturally, Orpheus spots her and falls instantly head-over-heels in love... so much so that, just mere minutes after meeting, Orpheus immediately proposes marriage. The jaded Eurydice, bemused but flattered, declares that their pairing won't be ideal because they are both poor and struggling. He counters her by declaring that he is currently composing an almost-finished epic song that will surely provide a better future for them both.

Slowly, Eurydice becomes increasingly enamored by her suitor, helped by his beauty, kindness, and his touching way with a tune.

Meanwhile, the change of seasons also signals the return of life-of-the-party Persephone (the incredible and intriguing Kimberly Marable) to the club. The wife of the all-powerful Hades (the formidable Kevyn Morrow) the imposing ruler of the Underworld, er, I mean Hadestown, Persephone resurfaces only during the warmer months, a clause Hades allows as part of their seemingly star-crossed relationship, which, at the moment has seen less volatile days in the past.

Perhaps the couple's current tensions are caused by the notion that her husband's kingdom is, in reality, an oppressive below-ground factory where workers are abused after being initially enticed with protection, shelter, and meals. She wonders whether her husband could ever be the man she fell with in love with before.

Urged by the manipulative Fates (the awesome Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne), a hovering ethereal trio that serves as instigating muses/spirit guides for those in dire straits, Eurydice begins to seriously entertain the idea of moving down to Hadestown, too, if it means escaping another harsh, food-deprived winter, and not having to wait around for her lover Orpheus to finish that damn song.

As expected, Eurydice does choose self-preservation over her love of/from Orpheus, and accepts Hades' tempting invitation to work in his factory, not knowing she will be entrapped there for eternity. A broken-hearted but love-struck Orpheus desperately chases after her, hoping to free her from Hades' grasp somehow. Will he gain enough courage and confidence to succeed in this hero quest? Will he be enough to convince Eurydice to come back to the surface with him?

Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center
Chibueze Ihuoma (center). Photo by Kevin Berne.

A mesmerizing blend of rousing musical performances and hypnotic, refreshingly original staging, HADESTOWN definitely lives up to all its well-earned hype of being one of the most impressive, enjoyable shows of the past few seasons. Avid musical theater fans and casual theatergoers alike are sure to be entranced by the show in some or all of its many parts, as it offers viewers a seemingly unique theatrical experience that stimulates every emotion.

More importantly, I am pleased to report that HADESTOWN doesn't require audiences to first "study up" on Greek mythology to absorb the narrative; in fact the simple parable it uses is but a skeletal structure to organize the show's beautiful music and intriguing commentary, which, for the most part, is good enough to cover some of the more iffy parts of the book.

The material itself is superb, but it definitely helps that the show's performance troupe lives up to the task at hand---a show that requires all, including ensemble members and musicians, to be superlative representations of their respective roles.

Green and Ihuoma are a perfectly-cast contrasting pair: she's able to effortless display Eurydice's spunky and independent-minded personality, while he (armed with a lovely falsetto that will have you melting) is adorably innocent at first but then becomes dashing and heroic---if ultimately imperfectly human---in the end.

Kreis, for his part, should be exalted for providing a decidedly different Hermes than the one Broadway audiences received from brilliant Tony winner André De Shields. Rather than simply recreating De Shields' portrayal, I appreciated Kreis' own confident take on Hermes, which, for me, is more reminiscent of the Devil in DAMN YANKEES: smooth and oily with a heaping dose of cockiness that his (more) youthful persona probably must have rather than the eons of knowledge and experience De Shields' Hermes possesses. This fresh perspective also allows for Kreis to trot out his incredible vocal chops, a heart-fluttering mixture of Southern Gospel/Blues and the power pipes of a jazz aficionado. His vocal riffs made me smile.

I also loved every moment featuring the musical stylings of the three fates, Moyano, Odorisio, and Renne---all of whom have distinct personalities yet commanded the room as a triumphant triad. And, daaaammm, these gals sound delicious together. Collectively, the ensemble---especially during the numbers that featured individual solos from the Hadestown workers---sounds utterly amazing. I seriously want to just be surrounded by them as they sing to me.

But most impressive of all are the two actors tasked to play the unlikely pair of Persephone and Hades, a subtly romantic yet still tensioned-filled coupling that results in some of the most laudable performances of the entire show. Morrow's rumbling baritone as Hades is effectively scary and intimidating, but his layered portrait also hints at a person with a deep sorrowful longing that manages to sneak out behind his sinister surfaces.

It is this depth that provides believability in why someone as openly emotional as Persephone can fall in love with someone like Hades in the first place, and Marable is excellent in giving that portrait some legs. Seductive yet bathed in palpable pathos, I could not take my eyes off of her, even when she isn't the focus of a scene. Her reactions to the action at hand is loaded with deep subtext.

And, uh, yeah... all of this amazingness is before each actor even sings a single note---and when they do, the results are just... chef's kiss. I gotta say, Marable and Morrow's work in their musical numbers are worth the price of admission alone.

Review: Tony Award-Winning HADESTOWN Enchants Audiences at OC's Segerstrom Center
Morgan Siobhan Green and Chibueze Ihuoma. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Admittedly, after a season of mostly rehashed stage adaptations of popular entertainment properties that is chockfull of nostalgia but sorely lacking in much creative substance, seeing an exquisitely original, creatively reimagined adaptation of a not-so-well-known property from classic mythology is a refreshingly welcome change, especially when all aspects of said show is vibrantly realized---from its music and staging, to its engaging cast. The pandemic may have slightly delayed SoCal audiences from experiencing this terrific show in all its glory, but this touring company proves it was well worth the wait.

* Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ *

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Photos by Kevin Berne courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Performances of HADESTOWN continue at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through August 21, 2022. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org

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From This Author - Michael Quintos

A So. Cal. Contributing Editor since 2009, Michael Lawrence Quintos is a talented, mild-mannered Designer by day. But as night falls, he regularly performs on various stages everywhere as a Counter... (read more about this author)


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