Even if you aren’t a Broadway fan, you’ll find plenty of reasons to love Hadestown. It began in 2006 as a concept album by award-winning songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, and after being developed into a musical gradually grew and made its way to Broadway in 2019. The story combines the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with Hades and Persephone and retells them with exceptional nuance and depth. I believe Hadestown does absolutely everything right, beginning with the story adaptation.
There are many differences between the musical and the original Greek mythology, but every decision from the smallest setting details to entire characters is expertly designed to bring powerful meaning into the original stories without detracting from their themes. The loose Depression-era setting, deliberately ambiguous division between realism and fantasy, and limited cast set the stage perfectly for the story to be told with incredible richness and elegance. Hades, the Greek god of the dead, is adapted into a powerful industrial boss character who forces his workers (dead mortals) to mine riches to fill the loneliness he feels while his wife, Persephone, the goddess of spring, is in the mortal realm.
In the original myth, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and forced to marry and live with him in the underworld for three months out of the year, and the sadness her mother Demeter felt without her is responsible for the season of winter. In the musical, it is implied that they fell in love organically and Persephone spends half of the year above ground to bring spring and summer to the mortals. In the time frame of the story however, they have both become unhappy in their marriage, which causes drastic changes in the seasons. During a harrowing winter storm, Eurydice, a young mortal woman, decides to go to Hadestown (the underworld) to become one of Hades’ workers. This contrasts with the mythology in which she died of a snake bite on the day of her wedding with Orpheus, and is largely just a plot device rather than a developed and autonomous character.
The main premise of the musical, like the myth, is the journey of Orpheus, the son of a Muse, to bring back his wife by singing a magical song. His song is so beautiful that Hades grants his request on the condition that he must not turn back to ensure that Eurydice is following him, but he turns around at the last minute. In the musical, although Orpheus’ and Eurydice’s story still ends tragically, the song succeeds in its additional aim of reminding Hades and Persephone of their love and fixing the seasons.
The storytelling itself is uniquely beautiful––all of the dialogue and narration is wonderfully poetic and teeming with clever symbolism and wordplay without ever sounding detached or artificial. The Greek god Hermes, played by Andre De Shields in the original Broadway cast, narrates the story and interacts with the characters in rhyming meter that feels both conversational and lyrical.
The main characters are so intensely dimensional that the concepts of good and evil become nearly obsolete; the audience sees Orpheus, Eurydice, Hades and Persephone learn from each other and grow as characters throughout the musical. This is exemplified in the song Orpheus is working on to right the seasons. He sings various iterations of his song throughout Act I, before performing the finished version for Hades in the song Epic III, by which time he has learned what he and Hades have in common and must overcome in order to live and love fully. The magic of this song is made real for the audience, largely through a melody of “la la las” within it that symbolically appears in others as well. The first portion of this melody resolves to a D minor chord and stays within the key of the song, but a D major chord in the second sequence introduces a higher note that creates a tangible “lifting” effect. This is brilliant because it effectively convinces the audience that this song truly has the power to move the cold-hearted, jealous and lonely Hades, and “bring the world back into tune.”
This musical is altogether above and beyond. From the finest intricacies to the overarching themes, it is written, directed, acted, and sung with unparalleled skill, imagination, and beauty. Every lead and supporting actor, musician, and crew member is an integral part of a powerful performance that I am dying to see in person. Whether you are a theater person, music lover, Greek mythology enthusiast or are just weary from this nearly year long pandemic, the Hadestown soundtrack is well worth listening to and might bring you some comfort until the world is brought back into tune.