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Wednesday, April 12, 2023

‘Hadestown’ at the Hippodrome is One Helluva Show

Hannah Whitley as Eurydice and J. Antonio Rodrigues as Orpheus
One may not have to be well-versed in Greek mythology to appreciate Hadestown, the highly touted musical that is currently making a national tour stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. For while the characters in the show—Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, Hades, and Fates—are based on those in Greek mythology, there is a strong connection to the modern world’s environment. One thing is for certain: the power of love and hope despite struggles and hardship transcend time.

The story is narrated by the herald of the gods, the lively and nimble Hermes. He guides the audience throughout and is aided by the ensemble performing as a Greek chorus and the three Fates who shape the destiny of each human. The energetic opening song, “Road to Hell” presents the contours of the story and sets the tone.

Hadestown is a mostly sung-through musical that presents a folk-rock vibe with an infusion of soul, jazz, and pop.  This unique show was conceived by Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music and the story. In 2019 it received 8 Tony Awards out of its 14 nominations including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Captivating and emotional, the production at the Hippodrome, under the direction of Rachel Chavkin and choreography by David Neumann, is exceptional. Though the story is riveting, and the eclectic music is memorable, the strength of the shows lies with the performers and their magnificent vocal prowess.

Orpheus is a passionate songwriter and musician who falls in love at first sight with Eurydice a pragmatic but vulnerable young girl. He immediately, and I do mean immediately, asks Eurydice to be his wife. But the young girl lives in poverty and suffers through and is fearful of extreme climate changes. Orpheus believes that he can create a song that can remedy the world’s ills. Their love does well in spring and summer but is challenged during the fall and winter seasons.

Matthew Patrick Quinn as Hades; Hannah Whitley as Eurydice
The impoverished and hungry Eurydice gets caught in a storm while trying to find food. At that point she is lured by Hades, the ruler of the Underworld (hell) and encouraged by the Fates, to escape the harsh conditions above and become a factory worker in Hadestown, a hellish industrial empire with its oil drums and what-not. Seeking that security, she signs a contract to do so.

Upon discovering that Eurydice is missing, Orpheus receives instructions from Hermes how to go to Hadestown to rescue his love despite the odds. With his music and undying love for Eurydice in tow, Orpheus arrives. He is confronted by Hades who points out that she signed that contract and is bound by it. But Persephone, Hades’ wife in a rocky marriage and who alternates her time in the Underworld and in the world above, tries to persuade Hades to let Eurydice go, noting the determination on the part of Orpheus. How the final decision is reached and what ultimately transpires form the remainder of the powerfully emotional story.

This all unfolds on a fixed multi-level set that resembles a well-worn New Orleans jazz club complete with a French Quarter-style balcony. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design allows the terrific seven-piece orchestra to appear onstage with some musicians moving about the stage from time to time. A steel door is located upstage that swallows up those entering Hadestown.

The scenes are split between this jazz club as well as Hadestown where the workers in hell perform their repetitive tasks in circles on a turntable. This effect, choreographed by David Neumann in addition to the creative and vivid lighting design by Bradley King that includes swinging light fixtures during emotional moments, is impactful. Neumann’s well-choreographed numbers are presented throughout, with “Livin’ It Up On Top” and “Way Down Hadestown” being exemplary, showcasing high-voltage, emphatic dance movements.

The show starts off with Hermes, the narrator, so I will start with him. Played deliciously and with flair by Nathan Lee Graham, the character captures the audience’s imagination and affection with his joyful and sympathetic qualities. What few comedic moments surface during the musical, Mr. Graham holds most of them.  He has a nice tenor voice and performs in multiple numbers including the stage-setting opener “Road to Hell” and the standout song “Wait For Me.”

J. Antonio Rodriguez shines in the role of the passionate and eternally optimistic Orpheus. A fine singing voice that is featured in such songs as “Epic I,” “Epic II,” “Epic III,” “Come Home With Me,” and the group number “Doubt Comes In,” Mr. Rodriguez possesses an exceptional command of falsetto during his vocals and is a treat to listen to.

Mr. Rodriguez displays wonderful onstage chemistry with Hannah Whitley, who plays the role of Eurydice. Their growing love is captured tenderly with a prevalence of emotion. The realistic and worried Eurydice is a perfect counterpoint to the sanguine Orpheus.    

Ms. Whitney’s voice is as clear as a bell and performs in many group numbers. Her duets with Mr. Rodriguez in “All I’ve Ever Known” and “Gone, I’m Gone” are gorgeous.

Matthew Patrick Quinn is outstanding as the antagonist Hades. Commanding and authoritative, Mr. Quinn conveys the steely ruler of the Underworld with verve. His bass voice is stunning with his lower register likely to reach the depths of Hadestown itself. Mr. Quinn excels in the duet with Ms. Whitney in the seductive “Hey, Little Songbird” and in the solo “His Kiss, The Riot.”

As Hades’ wife Persephone, the person who tries to assist Orpheus in his pursuit and attempts to reconcile her own marriage, Lana Gordon is enjoyable in conveying the lively, free-spirit.  Equipped with a powerful singing voice, she opens the second act with a good deal of campiness, and her solo, “Our Lady of the Underground,” does just that. Ms. Gordon also performs well in group numbers including “Livin’It Up On Top” and the duet with Mr. Quinn “How Long?”

The Fates consist of three singers who are omniscient and all-seeing and who provide commentary and advice throughout the show. They are played very well by Belén Moyano, Dominique Kempf, and Nyla Watson. The trio performs in several numbers including “When the Chips are Down” with Ms. Whitney and “Word to the Wise.”

The talented Workers Chorus include Sean Watkinson, Jordan Bollwerk, Jamal Lee Harris, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodriguez and Racquel Williams.

Hadestown is an entertaining and vibrant production with exceptional performers, music, costumes and staging. It takes us back to mythical time but has a relationship to the world we live in today. A key takeaway is keep moving forward and do not turn back. Should you see Hadestown at the Hippodrome? Hell yes!

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Hadestown runs through April 16 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: T. Charles Erickson

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