Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC

HADESTOWN Features What May Be A Near-Perfect First Act of a Musical Ever Conceived

By: Nov. 02, 2022
Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC
Nathan Lee Graham and the national company of Hadestown.
- photos by T. Charles Erickson

Mesmerizing and captivating are just two of the words that might best describe Hadestown, the Tony Award-winning best musical of the truncated 2019-20 Broadway season, which is now commanding ovations of rapturous applause from adoring fans at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center during an eight-performance run through Sunday, November 7.

Opening on Tuesday night to a packed house in Andrew Jackson Hall, the Rachel Chavkin-directed production of the work with music, book and lyrics by Anais Mitchell features what may be as near-perfect a first act of a musical to ever be conceived and it is one that is certain to have audiences talking about it for a long time to come - as long as, perhaps, the mythology of Eurydice and Orpheus and Persephone and Hades has provided inspiration for poets, playwrights, composers and artists since the time of the ancient Greeks. (When we have time, I'll be happy to share my thoughts on the notion that Eurydice and company are the inspiration for the stories and characters of The Walking Dead - which, interestingly enough, closes out its 11-season run in a week or so.)

Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC
Nyla Watson, Belen Moyano
and Dominque Kempf

A veritable feast for all the senses, Hadestown offers its audiences a spectacularly designed physical production: Rachel Hauck's stunning and evocative scenic design is illuminated to perfection by Bradley King's eye-poppingly gorgeous lighting design, while Michael Krass ideally clothes Chavkin's superbly talented cast in the perfect raiment for a dystopian society that somehow venerates fashion sense as easily as it exemplifies the futility of rampant civic greed and corruption. Visually, Hadestown offers a lot to take in and it's nothing short of breathtaking; the theatrical wizardry on display (which includes an almost hypnotic musical number in which the "workers" of the chorus spin industrial lighting fixtures like so many whirling dervishes) is testament to the theater artisans' craft and creates a post-industrial netherworld that suggests what might happen if we don't get this whole climate change thing under control in this world in which we mere mortals live in 2022.

David Neumann's choreography is robust, muscular and innovative, creating a new physical and dynamic vocabulary for theatrical movement and dance. Every step seems intentional and Neumann telegraphs throughout the play's two acts that we are witnessing otherworldly events that somehow harken to everything we've known before. His choreography is spellbinding and I want to see more.

Then, of course, there's the aural experience of Mitchell's score - an electrifying and entertaining blend of musical genres that pay homage to jazz and the blues and which takes us all, collectively, "Way Down Hadestown" - inspired by the sultry climes of the lower Mississippi Delta that leaves us all hot and bothered by a simmering undercurrent of sexual tension and an aching longing for love, romance and redemption. It's a heady experience, to be sure.

Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC
Chibueze Huoma and Hannah Whitley

Chavkin's impeccable direction provides the perfect introduction to Mitchell's unique take on the ancient Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus (the two have worked together to develop Hadestown since 2012), with the opening number - "Road to Hell," in which Hermes (played on tour by Nathan Lee Graham in the role that won Andre DeShields a Tony Award) introduces all the players in this tragic, if romantic, play - delivering the musical goods, as it were, that allow total immersion into this post-modern/industrial goth version of the myth. Mitchell's rendition leaves out some characters and rather thorny issues (Persephone's backstory is kind of scrubbed clean) from the aforementioned and engrossing mythology, to create what is perhaps a more hopeful tone despite the fact that it ends pretty much as you expect it to if you know anything about the source material.

Hadestown seems particularly in tune with contemporary times what with its treatment of a world in decline: everything has gone south due to climate change, leaving us with a world that is either always dark and freezing or too bright and blazingly hot. Food is scarce, stability is a thing of the past, workers are trapped in a never-ending cycle of woe and it's all because Hades is a megalomaniacal titan in a now-loveless marriage with Persephone, who drinks too much and hopes for better times to come in Spring.

As previously stated, Act One of Hadestown is inspired and imaginative, the narrative is smartly told and the production is tight and focused and, quite frankly, everything you want from a challenging piece of theater. However, the second act left me wanting and, to be frank, I felt disengaged and disaffected, underwhelmed by my experience. Was I distracted or overly concerned by outward events (you know, real life)? To be honest, I've never had trouble suspending disbelief and taking a flight of fancy when in the thrall of truly outstanding musical theater. Yet, there I was, sitting dead center in the orchestra of Andrew Jackson Hall, wondering when we'd get to the end of Orpheus and Eurydice's long journey home, in order to start everything all over again. (That's not a spoiler unless you have absolutely no f-ing idea what Hadestown is about, gentle reader.)

Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC
Matthew Patrick Quinn

One problem for me (but obviously not for much of the audience, I must admit) was the second act opener of "Our Lady of the Underground," in which we are treated to a tour de force performance by Persephone (Lana Gordon, who played the role on Broadway, has joined the national company in Nashville, according to a program insert). Let me tell you: Gordon is blessed with all the talent in the world and she commands the stage as only someone of her tremendous skill can do, but the number does nothing to advance the plot and, in retrospect, seems to stop the narrative (that was so engrossing in Act One) dead in its tracks and, in doing so, completely took me out of that sweet spot of musical theater nirvana in which I yearn to be transported to another time and place by art that is only possible via live performance.

That being said, you simply cannot take your eyes off Lana Gordon: she is a bona fide star. Likewise, Graham is charmingly droll and effete as Hermes, our friendly tour guide through the depths of hell. Matthew Patrick Quinn cuts a dashing, if dastardly, figure as the manipulative Hades and he, too, knows a thing or two about stage presence and how to command an audience's rapt attention.

Hannah Whitley is perfectly cast as Eurydice and she conveys every conceivable emotion through her performance. Chiboueze Huoma's beautiful, crystalline tenor gives voice to Orpheus' most heartfelt stirrings as he very sweetly and genuinely strives to win Eurydice's hand and heart.

Review: HADESTOWN 'Mesmerizes and Captivates' During Weeklong Stand at Nashville's TPAC As the three fates, Dominque Kempf, Belen Moyano and Nyla Watson move seamlessly and stealthily throughout the action of the play, providing sources of conflict and amusement with their every action. The five "workers" of the cast, who provide the yeomanlike efforts of a traditional musical theater chorus, are integral parts of the narrative and are vital to the production's success. Kudos to Jordan Bollwerk, Lindsey Hailes, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodriguez and Jamari Johnson Williams for their stellar performances.

Mitchell's inventive and eclectic score is performed with great musicianship by the seven members of the onstage band, including conductor/pianist Nathan Koci, cellist Eric Kang, violinist Clare Armenante, guitarist Michiko Egger, trombonist Emily Frederickson (who doubles on the glockenspiel), bassist Calvin Jones and drummer/percussionist Eladio Rojas. In Music City, where we revere musicians as consummate artists, they rank among the best.

Hadestown. Music, book and lyrics by Anais Mitchell. Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Choreographed by David Neumann. Stage managed by Joel Rosen. Musical supervision and vocal arrangements by Liam Robinson. Presented by Broadway at TPAC. At Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through November 6. For details, go to Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

photos by T. Charles Erickson


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