Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Don't Look Back

By Michael Block

The big question is do we need another theatrical retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice? The answer is only if it's good. Hadestown falls right in the middle of that spectrum. It's stunning to listen to. It's pleasing to the eye. But do we learn anything new? Not so much. Written by Anais Mitchell and developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, New York Theater Workshop presents a feat of pure artistry known as Hadestown.
Taking a page from the infamous tragic romance, Hadestown defies the expectations of musical theater. Instead, we are gifted a concept album brought to life. With a folk score infused with creole soul, Mitchell's music is the centerpiece of excitement. The music is so incredible, you'll likely be intrigued enough to listen to it after you leave NYTW. But did it serve the story best? Not necessarily. Thinly tied together from song to song, the love stories of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone duel in a two act musical where a semblance of knowledge of the myth is useful, if not essential. Littering classic quotes and themes into her lyrics, Mitchell shines in idea. Her lyrics don’t necessarily further the plot but rather explore the inner thoughts of the thinly developed characters. To move the plot, Hadestown introduces Hermes the narrator. The messenger of the gods serves as the messenger of plot for the audience and relays just a single bit of useful information to the actual character. While Hadestown may not instill new information, it explores modern themes. Even through your optimism, the world isn't such a great place. It’s fascinating at times, especially when there’s a song about a wall and freedom. But it’s simply not enough. The score is filled with some power and excitement. Mitchell knows what hooks to keep running through out. But Hadestown doesn’t find life until Hades arrives. That’s when things take off. Mitchell’s great success is her ability to create ear worm worthy music. It’s likely a melody or two will get stuck in your head.
photo by Joan Marcus
Regardless of your feelings on the material, you can’t deny the extraordinary overall talent on the stage. Orpheus and Eurydice may be the love magnet that pulls you into Hadestown but it’s the marvel that is Persephone and Hades that you should stay for. Amber Gray is a smoky seductress as Persephone. The raspy wisdom of her tone was simply sensational. Amber Gray is a name to keep on your radar. As the villain of myth and circumstance,  the grate carpet was laid out for Patrick Page, who dominates in yet another sinister role. It’s rare to hear a genuine bass in musical theater but Page delivers. Playing Hermes the narrator, Chris Sullivan’s dark whimsy moves the piece along. He’s got more soul than you could ever imagine. Nabiyah Be found purity in her Eurydice. Even though she saw the worst in the world, Be had confidence. The musicality from the Fate trio breathes vivacity into the piece. Tonality and harmony, Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Shaina Taub are the pulse of the score. Perhaps he's a victim of fate, or comparatively blah material, sadly, Damon Daunno as Orpheus lacked the charismatic appeal to play the artist in love. And you could only take so much of his pingy falsetto. But that’s the nature of the indie style.
Artistry was in full bloom for director Rachel Chavkin and her masterful design team. But when it came to theatrics, you can’t help but harken back to similar tricks used in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, also directed by Chavkin formally staged in a similar circular fashion. Regardless, the magic that Chavkin provided was enough to make Hadestown a visual spectacle. But when it came to seating, artistry got in the way of practicality. If you kept your eye on the stunning tree from scenic designer Rachel Hauck, those woes went away. And when it came to the spectacle of light, Bradley King succeeded. Had you not known about the post-apocalyptic setting, you may not have understood the concept behind the costumes from Michael Krass. Whether you’re coming to Hadestown blindly or as a fan of Mitchell’s album, you can’t deny the breathtaking orchestrations from Michael Chorney and co-arranger Todd Sickafoose. Chorney and Sickafoose honored Mitchell’s integrity while incorporating hints of musical theatre within.
Hadestown looks amazing. It sounds amazing. But when it comes to adapting it for the stage, it didn’t succeeded as much as you’d wish. Hadestown the concert may have been just as suitable. Either way, purchase the album and don’t look back.