REVIEW: Hadestown

I brought my daughter to see Hadestown last night at the Orpheum in Minneapolis and it was easily the best idea I’ve had all year. Why would a folk-jazz-bluegrass-inspired musical about doomed lovers appeal to a second grader, you ask?  These aren’t just any doomed lovers; this is Orpheus and Eurydice! If you knew your ancient mythology the way a kid does, you would have the whole sequence of events committed to memory.  The courtship, the wedding, the epic journey into the underworld, the battle to persuade a powerful deity to let them return.  You might even complain on the car ride home that you didn’t like how the writer/composer, Anaïs Mitchell, took out the viper that bit Eurydice, plunging her into the underworld on the night of her wedding to Orpheus.  You would no doubt find that replacing the cause of her death with a choice between hunger and exposure was way less interesting than a snake sent by a jealous god.  But as a parent, you would delight in the opportunity to talk about artistic license and the way that some small changes can have a big impact on the story the author is trying to tell.  It opens questions like: How does it change the story if Eurydice chose to go to Hadestown?  What would you do in her place?  You would also be thrilled to expose a young mind to such a great concentration of musical styles and the way they work together to tell an old story in a new way.  Despite the two-plus-hour runtime (plus 20 minute intermission), the brilliance of this musical kept her interest through the very end.

The performance on opening night was impacted by the substitution of two lead roles for understudies.  The lead role of Orpheus was replaced by understudy Chibueze Ihuoma and Eurydice was replaced by Sydney Parra.  Parra did a fine job blending jaded world-weariness with tenderness, adding a level of agency that was fitting with the character.  Ihuoma mastered the wide-eyed innocence of an artist, but seemed to really struggle with the vocals, particularly in the pivotal “Epic” numbers around which the whole story revolves.  For a musical that depends on a certain level of understatement, much of the cast seemed to deliver performances that were a bit too amped.  It’s hard to criticize a performance for having too much energy, but that’s usually only a problem if the audio mixing manages to balance things out. When that doesn’t happen, though, the vocals for many numbers get jumbled, especially in the upper registers.  The band performs almost entirely on stage (except for the drummer) and becomes an integral part of the performance, often to the delight of the audience and performers.  There’s a reason that Hadestown won the Tony award for best musical, and despite a few hiccups, this was a magical performance.  When asked by a woman in the lobby whether my daughter thought this would interest her own 9-year-old, my kid gave her a resounding, “yes!”  What more is there to say?

Hadestown is at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through March 20, 2022. Tickets start at $40.

Photo by T. Charles Erikson