Greece, Hell or New Orleans?

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

This is a musical that couldn’t decide on a location so three worlds were combined on one stage. Greek mythology, The Underworld and New Orleans are all featured in this Tony award-winning show that was a long time in the making.

The original version of this show premiered in community theatre in Vermont in 2006. In 2010, the creator, Anais Mitchell, produced a concept album of the music. Eventually, Mitchell met director Rachel Chavkin, and the two started to rework the production, adding some music and dialogue in 2012. The new version of the musical, developed for the stage and directed by Chavkin, premiered Off-Broadway in  2016. From there, it went to Edmonton (an interesting Canadian connection) and then London, England, before it finally arrived on Broadway in 2019. It received 14 Tony nominations that year, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Very little is spoken in this musical, so the audience must rely on singing and dancing to follow the story. The touring cast now on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto provides lively performances. The music is Dixieland style, with jazz as well as beautiful ballads, and a hint of folk music in some of the songs. The choreography is always interesting and well done: a crew of five “workers” keep up a fast pace. There are even lights on long chains swinging across the stage in a choregraphed performance.

Hades, the devil himself, is played by Matthew Patrick Quinn in a sometimes Trump-like style. His song “Why we Build the Wall” certainly brings Trump to mind. But interestingly enough, the song was probably written before Trump’s wall-building phase.

I was also reminded of Rent, having seen it recently at Stratford Festival. Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) wants to write songs and live the Bohemian lifestyle, with Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) as his love and muse. The three Fates (Dominique Kempf, Belen Moyano, and Nyla Watson) provided wonderful harmonies and also acted as back-up singers.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to understand the lyrics when Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes was singing. Since he is the narrator of sorts, it was difficult to grasp what he was trying to tell us. Nonetheless, he was fascinating to watch, with amazing moves. Anotonio Rodriguez as Orpheus sometimes struggled with his falsetto voice, but sang beautifully the rest of the time.

Hadestown will not be everyone’s cup of tea. You need to know something of Greek mythology to appreciate the story. At the same time, you must enjoy a New Orleans Mardi Gras atmosphere. It’s an unusual combination. But any theatregoer will appreciate the entertainment value in this impressive mix of song and dance.

Note: While it’s great to see Broadway shows when they come on tour, I, like many others, would prefer to see a Canadian cast in these shows. We know our talented performers and it is always fun to see faces we recognize on stage. I am really looking forward to Six, a Broadway hit that will be cast with Canadians right here in Toronto.

And a final note: Take a sweater. We found the Royal Alex’s air conditioning to be running full force the evening we were there and it was cold.

Hadestown continues with eight shows a week at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., Toronto, Ontario until August 20. Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com  for tickets.

Photo: The cast of Hadestown with Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes, centre.

Music, lyrics and book by Anais Mitchell
Developed and Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Musical supervisior and Vocal Arrangements by Liam Robinson
Choreography by David Neumann
Performed by Hannah Witley, J. Anotonio Rodriguez, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Matthew Patrick Quinn, Nathan Lee Graham, et al.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., Toronto
July 5 to August 20, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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