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Review: THE ROAD TO HELL IS A BEAUTIFUL RELEVANT JOURNEY WITH HADESTOWN at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

Review: THE ROAD TO HELL IS A BEAUTIFUL RELEVANT JOURNEY WITH HADESTOWN at Straz Center For The Performing Arts

"Times are hard, hard times in the world of men..." (Hermes- The Road to Hell)

"She was no stranger to the world, no stranger to the wind." (Hermes)

Yes, the Holiday Season is once again upon us. Time for merriment, gathering with friends, family, chosen family, what have you to enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the food of the season. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of the times, the Straz Center's Carol Morsani Hall brings a different fable and tale of love, hope, and the courage to survive against all odds to its patrons following the close of Thanksgiving weekend, and ushering in the first week of December. Unlike Ghosts of both Past, and Present, patrons of the Straz Center are plunged head-first into a dark tale based on figures found in Greek Mythology, and the tale itself seems all too relevant and perfectly placed in our current climate.

The Broadway Smash Hadestown, takes the stage by storm and leaves no prisoners in its wake. I for one am thankful for this time, the time to sit in a sacred space and experience the undeniably beautiful event that is live theatre, and the Straz Center is the Gift that keeps on giving, not only during the holiday season, but all year long. Their 2022/2023 Bank of America Broadway Season is one of the absolute best yet!

Hadestown is a musical with book, lyrics, and music by Anaïs Mitchell. Mitchell's original version first premiered in Vermont in 2006 in the town of Barre. Then a subsequent tour through both Vermont and Massachusetts in 2007. After the tour, Mitchell found herself unsure about the future of the musical, tabled the idea, and created a concept album which was released in 2010.

Then the year 2012 came, and Anais met Stage Director Rachel Chavkin of Great Comet fame, and they began to rework the staging of the original piece, adding new songs and dialogue. The Hadestown, that we have come to know premiered Off-Broadway in 2016 from May to July. Then was followed by productions in both London and Edmenton, the new version of Hadestown landed in previews on Broadway in 2019. Achieving such high acclaim, Hadestown received 14 Tony Nominations at the 73rd Tony Awards, and won 8 two of which included Best Musical, and Best Original Score.

This Two-Act Musical boast a whopping 32 musical numbers blending genres of Folk, Blues, and R&B. With a live band sitting right on-stage in the world of the show, you get the essence of a prohibition-style club, and as audience members, we are merely a fragment of its history.

Hadestown tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice is a young girl searching for food, and a little warmth, she makes a deal with Hades and goes to work in an industrial laden Underworld in exchange for security. Before traveling to the Underworld she meets Orpheus. Orpheus is a down-on-his-luck poet, attempting to write that "one song." Orpheus travels to the depths of the Underworld in order to rescue his love, and help show the others there is life beyond the realm of what they know, if they only escape.

Along the journey, we meet a cast of characters all based on characters in Greek Mythology.

At the top we meet Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and conductor of souls to the Underworld. In the production, stepping into the winged shoes is the exceptional Nathan Lee Graham. Graham was in the Original Broadway Cast of The Wild Party, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Graham is no stranger to the stage having appeared both on Broadway and Regionally. Nathan can also be seen in films like Zoolander, Zoolander 2, and Sweet Home Alabama among others. As Hermes, Nathan is the perfect Conductor. Moving about the stage with such finesse and a voice as smooth as silk, he is top-notch here. He keeps the story moving, and provides Narration to help us along the plight. Stepping into some giant shoes once filled by Andre De Shields, Nathan makes Hermes his own and we are here for every step.

Persephone, who as Greek Mythology reminds us is the Goddess of the seasons, flowers, fruit and grain. Under an arrangement, she spends half a year at a time with Hades in the Underworld, which causes the seasons to change to Fall and Winter above. The other half of the year, when she is not with Hades is when Spring and Summer return. Lindsey Hailes is wonderful as the "Lady of the Underground." Full of powerful vocals and sass, she moves about the stage with ease. Fighting for what's right in the world her Persephone is precise and exact in every moment to moment, but also completely reckless abandoned in moments like "Livin it up on Top."

Hades, or otherwise known as God of the Dead, or "The Wealthy One," fell in love, abducted, and married Persephone, therefore her mother the Goddess of Harvest refused to bless the Earth while she was with Hades, making fall and winter commence. Matthew Patrick Quinn is this productions God of the Dead, and performs with such gusto. Matthew's performance is outstanding both in presence and vocal ability. I will say he appears more menacing when he lives in the lower register of his voice. I find it fits the character more in the depths of the bass octave. He does take some liberties by bringing some the vocals into his head voice, which can border on the tendency to be trapped in the nasal region. The moment in Act 2 when he dances with Persephone is a beautiful and tender moment rarely seen coming from the character. Matthew towers over the rest of the company and is wonderful, especially in the bass vocal moments. His "Why We Build the Wall," is a chilling moment closing Act 1.

"Who lays all our best laid plans, who makes work for Idle Hands..."

As the Fates (Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos) Dominique Kempf, Belen Moyano, and Nyla Watson are the heartbeat of our tale. The trio, by way of Greek Mythology help determine the destinies of mortals, their lifespan and amount of suffering. Each play an instrument (Tambourine, Accordion, Fiddle) and help move the story along at an exceptional pace. They are like the fly on the wall in every moment, and are so hauntingly good. Their harmonies especially in moments "Any Way the Wind Blows," "When the Chips Are Down," "Nothing Changes," and "Word to the Wise," are unmatched here, and beautifully executed.

The Chorus in Greek Mythology sang, spoke, and dance in unison. For our purposes the Chorus act as the Citizens and are often seen as a mirror-image to our own circumstances, allowing an emotional connection to be received by the audience. The Chorus including Jordan Bollwerk, Courtney Lauster, Alex Lugo, Eddie Noel Rodriguez, Jamari Johnson Williams all double as The Workers. When they come together to make the train to the Underworld, their moves, vocals, and overall presence is so precise. Very similar to an amoeba all moving as one unit. Each member proves to be an integral part of the story, and much like what I tell people who see Hamilton for the first time, you must look at every person at least once. Do not go just for the Principles, because like in Hamilton, there is something to look at in every moment of this show, there is a reason they are called the "Hardest Working Chorus." All should be exceptionally commended for their work here.

As Orpheus, the son of the muse of epic poetry, is engaged to Eurydice. Chibueze Ihuoma is in his element. His connection with Eurydice is exquisite. His voice floats to the rafters above, and his versions of "Epic I, Epic II, Epic III" are beautifully performed. Two of my absolute favorite moments of Chibueze are his duet "All I've Ever Known," with Eurydice, and "Wait for Me." If you have never had the chance to see that moment performed live it will leave you with chills. From the staging, to the lighting, to the beautiful vocals, you feel for Orpheus and his plight in this moment, a moment that deserved a standing ovation all on its own.

"To the world we dream about, and the one we live in now..."

As Greek Mythology reminds us, Eurydice is a dryad (tree nymph), who is engaged to Orpheus. On the day they were to be wed, she was bitten by a poisonous snake and died then descended to the Underworld. Hannah Whitley as our Eurydice is outstanding. Her version of "Flowers," will make you weep, and even left me in moments of "Wow." She is poised and exact in every moment. You get a sense of her through-line from beginning to end, and you feel for her plight.

"I haven't seen a spring or fall since I can't recall..."

Technically speaking the National Tour Production of Hadestown is exceptional both in design and execution. With Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck we see a seamless transition from Broadway to Touring Houses. Not all touring stops have a trap in the floor for Hades to ascend from, but the use of the door at the top of the set worked well in translation. I also love the way a band is incorporated into the world of the show. Lightning Design by Bradley King is almost a character all on its own. The use of the swinging light fixtures was a beautiful addition. The stark contrast of warm ambers to chilling blues and fiery reds makes the moments in the show execute the story to perfection, and aid in the telling of the story. Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz helped seamlessly blend the world of the show together with lighting and scenic to create the environment in which our characters reside. Michael Krass's Costume Design is beautifully rendered here and helps evoke the personality of each character. David Neumann's Choreography is lively especially in moments such as "Livin it Up on Top" make for an exciting juxtaposition against the more ballad moments in the show.

Under Rachel Chavkin's Direction Hadestown, tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and their plight in and out of the Underworld. Steering the ship with the finest of hands, and brilliantly executed to tell the story of Anais' brilliant work. I think what makes Hadestown so intriguing is not just the ideals of Greek Mythology, but also how it examines human nature in general, and through its examination parallels the specific worldview, and cultural climate we currently reside.

I think Hermes says it best,

"See Orpheus was a poor boy, But he had a gift to give,

He could make you see how the world could be,

In spite of the way that it is.."

If you are in search of the absolute perfect ticket, a night on the town, or a story that is different enough for an escape, but also extremely relevant, then Hadestown is just what you need. Tickets to a show this sobering, exciting, and absolutely stunning do not come around everyday. You can catch this undeniably moving piece through Sunday December 4,2022 at Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Visit the Straz Center Box Office or www.strazcenter.org for tickets and more information. This is a show that is so damn good that a trip to Hell might be worth not just one, but two trips, and I for one would be the first on board.

"The enemy is poverty,

And the wall keeps out the enemy

And we build the wall to keep us free

That's why we build the wall

We build the wall to keep us free..."

PHOTO CREDIT: T. Charles Erickson



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freeFall starts off 2023 with a new play by Mat Smart. The Agitators tells of the enduring but tempestuous friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.


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