Way Down in “Hadestown”
Originally slated during the 2021-2022 Broadway in Miami series, Hadestown found itself opening shortly after the end of the previously slated season, the 2022-2023 season, at the Adrienne Arsht Center way down in Miami. As one can guess from the title, this critically-acclaimed musical derives its story from classic Greek myths, but Hades is not the main character. Hadestown is an American folk retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in steampunk railway stations. South Florida Theater boarded the last train and has returned to tell you: “Keep going. Don’t look back.”
As per usual with me, the reviewer, I knew nothing about the performance that is Hadestown before taking my seat in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Arsht. I studied Greek mythology and literature once upon a time, so I was familiar with who Hades was. So, when I opened my playbill and saw that two of the main characters were named Orpheus and Eurydice, I knew I was going to see something that was going to rip my heart out by the closing curtain.
Even knowing, generally, how this performance would treat the main characters, I took the time to appreciate this unique retelling. With a steampunk vibe and Industrial Revolution-era outfitting, the stage itself was set up with dark wood and metal. Desk cluttered the lower floor, instruments and stands lined the rising stairs, and at the very top, was a grated balcony. The stage set-up does not change throughout the performance, except an expansion of space between the stairs and the balcony building at about the halfway point. The stage was impressive, eliciting a feeling of poverty, alienation, and the existence of a higher class status.
The performance opened with Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham), the messenger of the gods, taking the stage and acting as an emcee while the rest of the cast took the stage and set the scene. In a stellar metallic gray suit, he introduced us to the world of Hadestown. The majority of the performance occurred either at the last train stop before reaching the titular town or in the titular town itself. At this last railway station, Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma), a poor orphan boy with a penchant for song, met Eurydice (Hannah Whitley), a beautiful, but also poor, runaway. They immediately fell in love, symbolized by a single red carnation.
Then the drama started. Orpheus and Eurydice were poor, and as much as they wanted it to, their love did not keep them warm and fed. Here entered Persephone (Lindsey Hailes), the wife of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), was originally from this railway station. When she returns, Spring returns with her, as tells the classic myth. But before she’s able to get settled, Hades returns for her, making Winter last longer at the railway station than normal. Orpheus decided then that his magnum opus would help Hades’ control over Persephone, restoring the seasons to normalcy. During his obsession, he forgot about his love, even momentarily, and Eurydice joined Hades in Hadestown to escape poverty.
Orpheus completed his song, realized that Eurydice left, and ran after her by going the long way to Hadestown. There, Eurydice sold her soul, placing coins on her eyes, to live a life she thought was possible, but it was not what she imagined. She was a slave. Orpheus finally arrived and did his best to quell the beast of Hades. He sang his song to both him and Persephone; the song designed for them to reignite their love. Hades presented a trial to Orpheus. He told them that they can leave, but only if they leave a single file, with Orpheus at the front. And if Orpheus ever doubted and turned back to see if Eurydice was still there, she would disappear back to Hadestown.
Spoiler (that’s not really a spoiler): he turned back to look. The ensemble gasped alongside the audience. Hermes took the stage to sing of the heartbreak occurring onstage and told that this is a tale as old as time, we know how it ends, but it doesn’t stop us from reading or singing or seeing it over and over again, hoping for a different turnout. What if he just kept walking?
Hadestown in Miami presents impeccable vocals and songs, a diverse cast, and a new telling of an old myth. So many incredible things happening all at once in a Prohibition-era fashion. After seeing the production, one can only imagine its original success on New York’s Broadway. You have one weekend left to see it before Winter comes again. Grab them here (https://www.arshtcenter.org/tickets/2021-2022/broadway-in-miami/hadestown/#tickets).