By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
If ever there was a city with which a spiritual kinship could be forged with the national tour of Hadestown, there is little doubt it would be New Orleans. There is much in “The City That Care Forgot” which mimics the actions of those who are “Living It Up On Top” and there are, of course, the obvious traditional jazz idioms which are easily recognized in Anäis Mitchell’s music along with her provocative lyrics.
These are just some of the reasons Hadestown won eight Tony Awards in 2019. These included Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical, Best Original Score of a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical and the technical awards for Best Sound Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Scenic Design and Best Orchestrations Tony Awards for musicals that year.
But, more to the point New Orleans audiences can easily appreciate the concept of living high and enjoying all of life’s blessings thoroughly before reaching the end of the journey. This joie de vivre has thoroughly integrated itself in the hedonistic culture of the city – in its food, in its music and in its overall celebration of life. Their emotional connection to the incandescent and vibrant Persephone and her consequential captivity as the wife of the dark lord of the underworld, Hades, is inescapable. Their appreciation of the ill-fated, but torrid love affair between Orpheus and Eurydice is also undeniable.
As Persephone, Kimberly Markable is a sheer delight as she preens about the stage taking gulps of wine and swigs of more potent libation from a silver flask. A member of the original Broadway cast, she plays the goddess and the object of Hades’ affection with precision. When she is spotlighted in songs like “Our Lady of the Underground” and “Living It Up On Top,” she thrills the audience with her zeal for life.
In the role of Hermes is Levi Kreis, the Tony Award winning actor (Million Dollar Quartet), who plays the messenger of the gods with a youthful enthusiasm markedly different from the paced performance that won André de Shields his Tony Award. Kreis plunges himself into the role and spends less time mugging the audience and more connecting to the actors playing their roles. There is a moment when Hermes employs a bejeweled and bedecked umbrella in “Living It Up On Top” – what the New Orleans audience regards as a part of its own “second-line” culture – where they erupt in spontaneous applause, a reaction which is probably less ardent elsewhere.
Nicholas Barasch, who scored on Broadway in 2016’s She Loves Me as Arpad, gives a superb performance as Orpheus, the love-smitten poet in love with Eurydice, played by Morgan Shobhan Green. Barasch’s charming balance of naivete and bravado marks his performance, while Green’s earthy and hard-boiled exterior is the armor she displays to hide her vulnerable, hungry side. Barasch’s remarkable voice soars throughout Hadestown with the mournful cries of “Wait For Me” interspersed and acting as his spiritual leitmotif.
Green counterbalances Barasch’s hopeful notes with her own feelings of remorse in “Flowers” and the two of them who first come together in “All I’ve Ever Known” in Act One are separated and reunite lovingly and spiritually in Act Two’s “Promises.”
As the imperial Hades, Kevyn Morrow strikes a magnificent figure, emerging fully in “Way Down Hadestown,” but enjoying his own spotlight in the emotionally-charged “Why We Build the Wall,” a terse political commentary on the haves and the have nots as well as a screed on modern capitalism, the corruption of the working class and the despoliation of the earth.
Another less obvious connection to New Orleans are the Three Fates, charmingly played by Helen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne. Identically clad in silvery gowns, their three-part syncopated harmonies are highly reminiscent of New Orleans’ own Boswell Sisters and their frequent revisiting of the tune “When the Chips Are Down” helps drive the story arc and gives added tension throughout the musical.
Mitchell’s unique and outstanding music is orchestrated and arranged by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose with Cody Owen Stine serving as music director. Given the nearly three times size the Saenger has over the Hadestown home theater on Broadway, the orchestra that plays on stage in this national touring company does do a good job of filling up the hall, but the intimacy of the smaller hall is lost slightly in this larger setting. The exuberance of the crowd does make up for that in droves.
Directed and developed by Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown retains all of the technical aspects on display at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York. The brilliant scenic design by Rachel Hauck, vibrant and inventive costumes by Michael Krass and excellent lighting (Bradley King) and sound designs by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz spectacularly retain their charm and recreate “the world we dream about” and “the world in which we live.”
One interesting footnote: On opening night for the national tour in New Orleans, the performance of Hadestown in New York was cancelled due to a breakthrough COVID infection. It truly was a unique New Orleans connection for those in attendance.
Hadestown continues its run at the Saenger Theater, 1111 Canal Street, as part of the Hancock/Whitney Bank’s Broadway Across New Orleans series. Nightly shows and matinees continue now through Sunday, January 2. For more information, call 504-525-1052.