It’s an odd checklist. A love destined for tragedy. An epic of Greek mythology. A Jazzy & Bluesy Concept Album, and a musicians’ gigging style. An ‘intrinsic’ cast and “jazzzzz banddddd….” lolling around battered wooden furniture, giving off a “we’re just a bunch of pals” vibe. Such things are the ingredients of
It’s wrapped in a confidence of style and with a naughty sense of fun.
Luckily you can push aside the idea that such a structure that weaves together themes of death and hopelessness with a little poetry could create anything miserable. For the sum of these parts – along with casting that is so good that you worry for the next production, and a setting that makes the vast Olivier seem inclusively intimate – is a show that should be your next Must-See, and could happily take its place on the list of the Mizzes, the Phantoms and the Saigons to running in a theatre somewhere across the globe every day of the week. It really is that good.
It’s over 12 years since Anais Mitchell began her journey to compose this musical version of the tale you probably don’t know that you do know. Yet it feels as fresh as if just written now for this Olivier staging - the warm-up to its Broadway run in 2019 - with intelligently infectious lyrics, a score that will make you bop and boohoo, and a whip crack tight chorus that fill the stage with energy.
For those who really don't know the story, let me summarise. For those who do, let me apologize...
On a cold and miserable Earth, Eurydice is barely existing, until she is taught how to live by the “greatest musician and poet there ever was”, Orpheus. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ground – literally, thanks to the depth of the Olivier’s revolve being used to great effect – Hades’ underworld resembles a burning factory of the Industrial Age, where the souls he owns are endlessly made to build and build, more and more. As his world gets hotter, so above it gets colder – apart from for the six months he allows Persephone to take up with her the sun, only making both sides worse off when she departs for the other.
As Orpheus focusses on his other obsession, to finish that “one song” that will forever bring flowers and sunshine, love ceases to be such a good food supplement, and the ever-hungry Eurydice starts to wander. You can’t blame her. For all their ‘love is like a petal’ stuff, poets are often poor. And poets often get tedious. Very quickly. It shows remarkable restraint that she didn't punch him square in the face rather than endure another rhyming couplet. I know I would. Really. Here the few spoken words there are, still rhyme as though they were actually meant to be sung before the decision was made to cast Rex Harrison. (Google reference- My Fair Lady movie trivia.)
So it’s understandable that she is all too easily tempted and accepts the ticket to Hadestown and the promises of a bed, warmth – and of course food – that Hades offers. In return for her soul. As is often the way with the romances and life-changing decisions made in musicals, there’s little depth to the relationship of the romantic leads – she’s pretty much ordering the Uber to the Underworld as he’s wiping the cum stain off the duvet – but if the source of true love has precedent as being one war-torn night with a prostitute, or a garden gate glance before revolution, then this is no different. And of course, lost and lifeless without her – possibly too busy finding a rhyme for insidious to notice she’d left – he takes the back road to Hadestown to reignite the passion in Hades’ love and the, well, the life really, of Eurydice. And the adventures ensue…oh but this is a tragey. And tragedies don’t end well.
As Eurydice, Eva Noblezada, has the power and pain to her voice that is perfect for the role, no doubt aided by the parallels with her much praised Kim in the recent revival of Miss Saigon. Reeve Carney suffers more as Orpheus but, constricted further by having to repeat the stanza of the “one song” – a screech of a whine that sounds more like nails on a blackboard than a call to spring – I’m not sure anyone could do much better In the part that seems to be written as a scapegoat to avoid five stars.
Overall it basks in a confidence of style and has a naughty sense of fun seeping through even the darkest of moments of what is essentially a depressing tale of the pointlessness of hope. Andre de Shields is delightful as his playful Hermes is all lascivious winks and soft shoe shuffle, whilst Amber Grey’s Persephone is consistently just the right side of party-pleasing pissed, with flames erupting from her soul as she sings, showing the strength of her love as much as her desire for fun.
Grey is here from the original cast along with Patrick Page as her Hades. And Page is something else altogether. He only needs to be standing quietly on the edges as an onlooker, and he draws you to him, exuding a commanding control over all that he sees. But when he sings, boy does he sing. His voice somehow goes deeper than Hell itself, and with each descent seems to get more rich and more powerful. As rich and powerful as the Devil himself perhaps. Page’s performance is the darkest of chocolate that oozes and spreads over a the sweetest of productions that you would happily experience death by. Make your friends on Broadway jealous by enjoying your slice first.