Review: HADESTOWN Proves You Can Live it Up on Top and Below in Stunning Toronto Production

The retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice runs through August 20.

By: Jul. 11, 2023
Review: HADESTOWN Proves You Can Live it Up on Top and Below in Stunning Toronto Production
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Four years after its Broadway premiere, Anaïs Mitchell’s Tony-winning musical HADESTOWN, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, has finally made its way down to Toronto. With a touring crew of powerhouses, both in the cast and in the band (led by Eric Kang), the retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice comes to life beautifully onstage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

In Mitchell’s version, the poor poet Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) falls in love with the wandering Eurydice (Hannah Whitley). Their world, explained by the narrator Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham) has become a harsh one to live in with near-constant winters and too-hot summers fuelled by the marital issues of gods Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) and Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras). To bring back the spring, Orpheus begins working on a song and in his focus, loses Eurydice. He heads underground to bring her home from Hades’ domain - better known as Hadestown, and initiates a revolution among its downtrodden residents. As Hermes states in the show’s opening lines, though, “it’s a sad song, it’s a sad tale - it’s a tragedy,” but despite knowing this from the start, it’s a beautiful story to journey through nonetheless.

With its roots in Greek mythology, HADESTOWN seems to take inspiration from countless eras; early on Hermes states: “Don’t ask where, don’t ask when,” almost as a means of removing the story from being compared to one single thing. It’d be possible for people to garner different ideas of what message is at the core of this musical - capitalism, climate change, marital struggles, and poverty are all prevalent throughout. However, the one idea that rears up in each situation is, simply, love. And it’s presented incredibly earnestly, and effectively, in HADESTOWN.

Rodriguez brings a childlike naivety to Orpheus, giving a necessary sincerity to the character; his ‘Come Home With Me’ is sweet, and he delivers the late act-one showstopper ‘Wait For Me’ with power and palpable emotion. As his muse, Whitley’s Eurydice is just as wide-eyed although her reasons are more from a lifetime of harsh experience versus Orpheus’ innocence. The two are charming together, and watching Whitley transform Eurydice through several big developments is a treat.

The counter-couple to the young lovers comes in the form of Hades and Persephone. Oliveras at first appears to be a fun-loving goddess of spring, but as she peels back her shell, she shows a struggling woman trying to cope. Her voice shines throughout, but her ability to emote and convey Persephone’s desire for love in the heavier emotional scenes of the second act is gripping. Quinn is a standout from the moment he opens his mouth; he’s got a picture-perfect deep tone to his voice that bleeds power. At first his Matrix-esque getup and posturing is somewhat comical, but he becomes a formidable foil to Orpheus and Eurydice quickly and believably.

Leading the audience through the story, Graham brings a theatrical, dramatic Hermes to life. This is a fantastic choice for big numbers like the opening ‘Road to Hell’ and ‘Way Down Hadestown’, and while he does soften a bit in some of the more difficult emotional moments, there’s still a bit of Graham’s Hermes’ theatricality that persists. As the character whose job it is to tell this story over and over, the choice to heavily dramatize lends an interesting perspective to the role. Also driving the story are the Fates (Dominique Kempf, Belén Moyano, Nyla Watson) who throughout are entangled in Orpheus and Eurydice’s story. Kempf, Moyano and Watson each bring a unique tone and characterization to the mythical figures, shifting them from mischievous to frightening with ease.

The onstage band, led by Kang, are as much a part of the story as the cast. Trombonist Emily Fredrickson was a highlight as the brass instrument features heavily in the score. The ensemble, credited in HADESTOWN as the chorus - a nod to the classic Greek chorus - also impressed with roles shifting from the lively humans above ground to the broken down laborers of Hadestown.

The semi-circle of the set (scenic design by Rachel Hauck) helps confine the space when in the world of men, and with the use of lighting (Bradley King) and sound design (Nevin Steinberg, Jessica Paz), an impressive late-first act transformation shifts it into an intimidating underground capital. King’s lighting is impressive throughout, using a mix of stationary, swinging, and worn lights throughout. The design of ‘Wait For Me’ is especially haunting, as Orpheus descends into the depths of the Underworld with minimal and moody lighting throughout. His ascent later on with Eurydice is chilling, with the use of a moving floor conveying just how long and harrowing the journey is for the tragic couple.

HADESTOWN doesn’t shy away from asking for change. Orpheus inspires it in those around him, Eurydice’s choice to change alters her life. Persephone and Hades must work for change in order to heal. And while it asks the question boldly, it’s also wise enough to provide a non-answer to the biggest question of the show: why sing the song again, knowing it’s ending, if nothing changes? But by the end of the show, the small shifts made almost suggest that bigger changes are possible - and that kind of hope, like the first flower to bloom after winter, is something that speaks to us all.


Mirvish's HADESTOWN runs through August 20 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St W, Toronto, ON

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/hadestown 

Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson




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