Flixr/ Bex Walton
Flixr/ Bex Walton

A Musical Journey to the Underworld: A Review of ‘Hadestown’

Greek mythology is something I think we’ve all been obsessed with at some point in our lives. Hadestown has most definitely rekindled my love for it. Anaïs Mitchell’s musical is a reimagining of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in a post-apocalyptic America. It also intertwines the myth of Hades and Persephone, rulers of the underworld, to create a gripping story of romance, sacrifice, and suffering.

After gaining success from an Off-Broadway run in 2016, Hadestown moved to Broadway in 2019 and featured a talented cast including Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada as Orpheus and Eurydice and Patrick Page and Amber Grey as Hades and Persephone.

Hadestown opened in the West End on February 21st, 2024 at the Lyric Theatre, and this is where my review begins. I knew very little about the musical before watching it, apart from the fact that the album had an endless list of songs (40 to be exact) and that the ending would crush my soul. It did, but I’ll get to that later.

For those of you who may not know, Hadestown follows the story Orpheus, a musician, and a poor girl, Eurydice, who fall in love almost instantly after meeting each other. However, enduring the hardships of poverty gets too much for Eurydice and she is lured into the depths of Hadestown, to live and work in Hades’ and Persephone’s bleak industrial city. Orpheus embarks on a dangerous journey to rescue her as she quickly becomes disillusioned with her life in the underworld and longs to come back to the world above. I have nothing but praise for the cast of this musical, so let’s start there.

Melanie La Barrie played Hermes, the narrator of the story and the one to open the show. Along with her incredible vocals, I really appreciated the decision to keep her accent as part of the character; it was very unique. Her stage presence was phenomenal, and her storytelling skills were so engaging. I always ended up being the narrator when I was younger in my primary school plays and Melanie La Barrie has truly put me to shame.

The same can be said for Dónal Finn, who played Orpheus. I don’t know about you, but when you listen to the original soundtrack of a musical so much, you get completely thrown off when someone else sings it. I found this when watching Hamilton on the West End for the first time. I was so used to hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s voice on the soundtrack, that hearing anyone else sing it felt so wrong. However, I did not know how much I needed an Irish Orpheus. It took a few minutes to get used to, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. Dónal Finn’s performance was out of this world, and I’ve never heard anyone who has more of an impressive vocal range than him. Outstanding. Grace Hodgett-Young was Eurydice and again kept her accent as part of the character. I thought this decision complemented Orpheus’ voice very well, and while the majority of the West End performance remained true to the original, it added a slight touch of originality to the show. The vocals of Eurydice are very demanding in Hadestown, but Grace Hodgett-Young pulled it off effortlessly, and I have nothing but admiration for her.

The iconic role of Hades was taken on by Zachary James, an American actor, singer, and 2022 Grammy Award Winner for Best Opera Recording. In an interview on the Hadestown YouTube channel, James stated that Hades is a “wounded” and “misunderstood” character and his main goal was to make him “likable.” Along with his powerful voice, I thought James’ performance as Hades had me feeling slightly sorry for him, which is exactly what he wanted.

Gloria Onitiri played Persephone and absolutely killed it. Both her love and bitterness towards her husband, Hades, came across perfectly to the audience, making her one of the most complicated and well-written characters of the show. The sass and attitude she brought to the character were perfect, and her performance is something I will not be forgetting any time soon.

Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne, and Allie Daniel were the Fates, the goddesses who design the fates of men and the dangers that happen to them. Throughout the show, they represent the wind, the storm, emotional turmoil, and temptation, voicing the inner thoughts of the characters’ dilemmas. These three women’s voices blended so beautifully together; that I was blown away. Along with their talented voices, the fates are required to play a variety of instruments throughout the show, making it all the more impressive for the audience to watch.

Speaking of instruments, I do love it when the musicians are put on the stage and made to look like part of the story rather than hiding them in the orchestra pit. And this is why I love Hadestown. The seven talented musicians were all dressed in fitting costumes and had just as much a part to play in the story as the main cast. The Hadestown score was phenomenal, infused with folk, pop, and blues music. Music is how I discover musicals, and I always fall in love with the soundtrack before the performance. Hearing it play on stage combined with the performance of the cast was exceptional. It went above and beyond my expectations.

The rest of the cast was excellent, of course. The dancing, the singing, the acting—all perfect! I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the chorus in the opening number, as they showed off their impressive skills and dance moves. From the show’s first minute, I knew it would not disappoint.

The staging was beautiful. I do love a good rotating stage. I have no idea how the actors get on and off it without falling flat on their faces, but they made it look effortless. The lamps, the wooden chairs, the spiral staircase, and the piano made the place feel cosy yet dark at the same time. You could truly feel the sense of doom when the characters are taken down to the underworld for the first time.

The ending made the whole theatre cry; the woman next to me jumped out of her seat, and a group of girls behind me were trying their best to sob as quietly as possible. For such an upbeat and dramatic musical, the ending truly pulls you back down to earth. It’s a sad song, it’s a sad tale, and It’s a tragedy. And I wish I could watch it again, and again, and again.

Comments (2)

  • I loved this musical so much and reading this article has made me fall in love with it all over again! The casting, PERFECT! The songs, PERFECT! The choreography, PERFECT! There’s nothing much more to say really! 🙂

  • The last two lines of your review almost made me cry! Those words just send me straight back into my first listening of the soundtrack!
    Such a great review! I loved that you mentioned the musicians on the stage because actually seeing those creating the music adds so much to a performance!

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