‘Hadestown’ plays an open run at the Walter Kerr Theatre. 219 W. 48th St., hadestown.com.
The Act One finale of the stunning musical romance “Hadestown” contains the most memorable, eerie and politically relevant moment of the entire Broadway season — but its ultimate effect was unintentional.
In 2010, Anaïs Mitchell, a Vermont-based folk singer-songwriter, released “Hadestown,” a quasi-operatic concept album based on the ancient Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. According to the myth, soon after Eurydice marries Orpheus (the lyre-playing son of Apollo), she dies of a snake bite. Orpheus, undaunted, ventures into the underworld to bring Eurydice back. Hades, god of the underworld, allows Eurydice to leave under the condition that Orpheus cannot look at Eurydice as they escape.
In Mitchell’s hands, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, flashy and grooving) narrates a contemporized version in which the sensitive Orpheus (Reeve Carney, dreamy-eyed with a soft-rock tenor voice) is too focused on playing the guitar to provide for the real world needs of Eurydice (Eva Noblezada, jaded and instinctual), who ventures down to an industrialized underworld overseen by Hades (Patrick Page, cool and sinister) and his wife Persephone (Amber Gray, riled up and mischievous).
Serving as the knockout Act One finale is the ominous and disturbing anthem “Why We Build the Wall,” in which Hades explains his reasons for forcing his subjects to construct a giant border wall. To quote the lyric: “How does the wall keep us free? The wall keeps out the enemy; And we build the wall to keep us free; That’s why we build the wall; We build the wall to keep us free.” To emphasize once more, this was written long before the Trump presidential campaign became a reality.
Directed by Rachel Chavkin (“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”), “Hadestown” contains a stunning visual design evoking both a New Orleans barroom scene and a smoldering mechanical underworld, complemented by the motion of turntables, a rollicking band, bold performances and expressive dance choreography. Whereas the previous Off-Broadway production was performed in the round, no impact has been lost in the transition to a traditional proscenium theater.
The score — which contains airy folk-pop for the lovers and a livelier jazz idiom for the denizens of the underworld — comes off as distinctive and authentic by Broadway standards. Many of the songs are reflective in nature, which leads to some slow points, especially in Act Two. But, more often than not, “Hadestown” is exciting, compelling and beautiful.
Although it has arrived late into the Broadway season and lacks name recognition, “Hadestown” may very well become the next risk-taking, genre-defying new musical to catch on with a larger audience and achieve major commercial success.