HADESTOWN at the Lyric Theatre
“Hadestown is the West End musical you’ll want to see this year. And next year. And the year after.”
Hadestown is that remarkable thing: an adaptation of a tragic Greek myth that isn’t an opera or a film, or a series of elegiac poems, but is instead a bluesy, jazzy, rock musical with an uplifting ending. Yes, you read that right. Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music, lyrics and book, promoted early versions of Hadestown from rural beginnings in Vermont for years before she found the right team to help bring her vision to Broadway. And after taking Broadway by storm in 2019, it’s now the turn of London’s West End. This production of Hadestown has found just the right venue. The Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue is big enough to enhance the energy of its multi-talented cast, yet intimate enough to create the mood of a jazz club in New Orleans.
Hadestown is not the first musical to adapt the ancient Greek story of singer songwriter Orpheus and his wife Eurydice, but this is a fresh take on an old story. In the original, Orpheus and Eurydice are newly weds, blissfully happy until Eurydice dies from a snakebite. Unable to accept her loss, Orpheus follows her into Hades’ realm, with only his musical talent for protection. But Hadestown is not just about Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s also the story of another pair of doomed lovers, Persephone and Hades, the King and Queen of the Underworld. Plus their part in the environmental destruction that’s taking place on the planet above them. There’s a lot of material to unpack, but Mitchell’s lyrics, music and book are satisfyingly complex enough to hold it all.
Mitchell and her team have made some changes to the original Greek myth. Orpheus is still the dreamy artist, too busy composing songs to notice the danger his wife is in. Eurydice is an orphan in this version, hungry and cold. When the King of the Underworld tempts her with a one way ticket on his train to hell, she gives up Orpheus for food and shelter in return. Her story is mirrored in that of Hades’ unhappy wife Persephone. Hades, the brutal capitalist, is too busy exploiting his workers to pay much attention to her. The irony is that Hades thinks he can chain Persephone to him with his profits in gold, silver and jewelry. In the Hadestown version of the myth, there are four unhappy people with much to give. Yet they keep making the choices that bring them all to hell. There’s a lesson there for all of us. Fortunately it takes the form of memorable songs, brilliant lyrics, plus a book that is unusually complex and thought provoking. With so much packed into Hadestown, it’s easy to forgive the length of this musical. And one or two spots where the action slows, and you waken, for a moment, from the dream.
The Lyric Theatre’s production of Hadestown has put together a fantastic cast, and a band of great talent to support them. Despite the formidable leading men, Dónal Finn (Orpheus) and Zachary James (Hades), this production belongs to its leading women. Gloria Onitiri as Persephone and Grace Hodgett Young as Eurydice fill the space with their powerhouse voices, and Melanie La Barrie (Hermes) is both a voice to reckon with as well as a sympathetic narrator. Fates Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne and Allie Daniel turbo charge the female power on stage. The rest of the cast are equally dynamic supporters, and there’s no question the musicians are up to the task of backing these voices. Trombonist Daniel Higham and Brad Webb on drums stand out as they add just the right amount of jazz club intimacy to draw the audience in. The choreography (David Neumann), costumes (Michael Krass) and lighting (Bradley King) echo the sense of nightclub ambience. Together with the vision of Mitchell, the direction of Rachel Chavkin and Rachel Hauck’s scenic design, the team keeps this version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth paradoxically intimate, while seamlessly transferring the action between upper world to underworld, with assists from stage lifts and revolves.
Hadestown is the West End musical you’ll want to see this year. And next year. And the year after. Take your friends. This version of a classical Greek myth is something we can all relate to. Orpheus and Eurydice’s love story may have a tragic ending, but you’ll leave the theatre in an upbeat mood.
HADESTOWN at the Lyric Theatre
Reviewed on 21st February 2024
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Marc Brenner
Previously reviewed at this venue: