By Tulis McCall
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. In the words of Louise Bourgeois, “I have been to Hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful.” New York Theatre Workshop has pulled off another miracle. Hadestown is a thrilling new musical by Anaïs Mitchell that sucks us into the myth of Orpheus (Dammon Daunno) and Eurydice (Nabiyah Be). “It’s a sad song…” our narrator Hermes (Chris Sullivan) tells us – but they are gonna sing it anyway. Because that is what you do with myths. Pete and repeat, as the saying goes. And repeat again just in case it might come out differently.
The three Fates (Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton and Shaina Taub [recently featured in Old Hats]) make up the Chorus – and this chorus would give The Andrews Sisters a run for their money. The sing and serenade us into the story that, despite their musical gifts, is just the tiniest bit dangerous. There are many variations on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice and Ms. Mitchell seems to have added her own special touch. Not to the extent that there is a happy ending – which is actually a relief. With her partner, director Rachel Chavkin and this magnificent design team and orchestra – a thing of beauty has been created. While at times is is more concert than theatre (this was the first incarnation of the piece) the story nevertheless reaches out and grabs you in your wooden seat.
In the upper world Orpheus and Eurydice meet and fall in love. His songs are enchanting mainly because Daunno’s vocal range seems to have no limits. Be is captivating as well both in voice and in character. like most ingenue characters, these two have much less to do than the rest of the crew, but they positively glow in each moment.
The snap crackle and pop are provided by Chris Sullivan as hermes, a character and performer with enormous grace and charisma, Amber Gray as a juke joint Persephone who appears to sustain herself on a diet of fireworks, and Patrick Page (Hades) who uses his baritone to seduce not only the women on stage, but pretty much everyone in the audience.
It is Fall and Persephone has returned to Hades to let the earth grow cold and grim without her. Hades as always welcomes her back, but is as resentful as ever regarding her comings and goings. At the same time, Orpheus decides he needs to find himself and his music, which leaves Eurydice alone and ripe for the taking. Hades pulls her into the underworld with the promise of a swell time. It is only when she realizes that she has made a deal with the Devil that Eurydice repents her decision.
Enter Orpheus to save the day – and it almost works. But when it doesn’t it is Hermes who soothes us all with the promise that “Spring will come again…with a tale of love that never dies; with a love song… for anyone who tries.” It is one of those transformative moments that makes you remember why you go to the theatre.
We folks go on going on, like the mythical creatures we have created. We swallow defeat, and let it pass through us. And we never, ever, give up. We may say we do. We may surrender. But we never stop looking for a way out, a way up. And while we are looking for a foothold, we make peace with Hell, because we know we will be back – at a point further down the track – and we learn that the work of life is, indeed, pronounce Hell wonderful.
HADESTOWN – By Anaïs Mitchell; Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin
WITH Nabiyah Be, Damon Daunno, Lulu Fall, Amber Gray, Patrick Page, Jessie Shelton, Chris Sullivan, Shaina Taub
Scenery by Rachel Hauck, Costumes by Michael Krass, Lighting by Bradley King, Sound by Robert Kaplowitz, Properties by Noah Mease, Arrangements & Orchestrations by Michael Chorney, Music Supervision, Co-arrangements Orchestrations by Todd Sickafoose, Music Direction by Liam Robinson, Choreography by David Neumann, Dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia, Co-conceived by Ben T. Matchstick; Stage Manager Lindsey Turteltaub