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Broadway douses the fires of hell with folk music

For a show about hell, “Hadestown” doesn’t have much heat.

Yes, composer Anaïs Mitchell’s musical retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, which opened Wednesday on Broadway, sounds pleasant and looks more expensive than it did in 2016 at New York Theatre Workshop. But this classic tale of love — he looks back, she gets trapped in the underworld for all eternity — is still too slick and sterile for us to give a damn about her damnation.

The sluggish musical mostly honors the framework of the ancient Greek tragedy. Orpheus (Reeve Carney) is a poor, dreamy musician working on one great song — Roger from “Rent,” basically. He meets pretty Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) at a bar, falls in love instantly and they get married. Good so far.

And then come some misguided modern touches that rob the myth of its magic. Hell, for one, has been rendered as a mining town, lorded over by a Trump-y mogul named Hades (Patrick Page). Minus any fire and brimstone, Hadestown doesn’t seem all that bad a place to be. Sure, Hades makes his denizens work nonstop, but to the tune of Page’s soothing, deep baritone and up-tempo dance numbers sung by his wife, Persephone (Amber Gray). Enjoy your stay at Club Dead, Eurydice!

Amber Gray
Amber GrayMatthew Murphy

Eurydice’s death, by the way, wasn’t caused by a serpent bite: Rather, she “buys a ticket” and hops aboard the train. Her earthly demise is so metaphorical that it’s a non-event. Suddenly, we’re no longer at a musical about battling the gods in pursuit of undying love — we’re at a musical about a hipster moving to Kentucky.

Orpheus, nonetheless, is bummed she’s gone, and with the help of his trusty narrator friend, Hermes (a sassy André De Shields), he sneaks down to Hadestown to retrieve his lady love from the underworld. That’s when Carney wails the show’s best song, “Wait for Me.”

On the whole, Mitchell’s sung-through bluesy score is quite beautiful, if a better fit for a Starbucks than a Broadway theater. Filled with narration and folksy twang, it sounds like a slowed-down “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” However, while her melodies are eerie, the lyrics grate. A trio of bouncy-voiced Fates sing, “Way down to Hadestown, way down under the ground” so many times, you want to shout, “We know where hell is!”

The leads are at their best when director Rachel Chavkin lets them be still instead of forcing them to shuffle around tables and chairs for no apparent reason. Noblezada brings the same soulful voice to Eurydice that lifted the recent revival of “Miss Saigon,” in which she played Kim. Page’s devil is low-key, but imbued with Darth Vader gravitas, and Gray plays Persephone like a boozy madame. The weak link is Carney, last seen here in “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” He has an angelic voice, but his acting is flat and colorless.

His guitarist-on-a-stool bit sums up the overriding problem of “Hadestown,” which turns one of the world’s greatest love stories into a concert at the back of a West Village wine bar.

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