‘Hadestown’: Finding hope, love on highway to hell

The cast of the national tour of “Hadestown” at the Citizens Bank Opera House/ Photo: T. Charles Erickson

BOSTON — The road to Broadway and the Tony Awards was once a one-lane highway.You didn’t even think of taking it unless you were named Sondheim, Simon, or Rodgers & Hammerstein.

It was already changing when the late Jonathan Larson welcomed a new generation of young theater-goers to his remake of “La Boheme” set in AIDS-ridden New York City, and “Rent” became an international phenomenon.

Now from Vermont, of all places, the brainchild of indie-folk singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell is in Boston as a Tony-winning musical that has its roots in another unlikely genre: Greek mythology.

The national touring production of “Hadestown” – the winner of eight Tony Awards in 2019, including Best Musical and Best Director — is re-opening the Citizens Bank Opera House after a 20-month closure. And it is the culmination of a journey that began 15 years ago when Mitchell toured Vermont in a silver-painted school bus presenting her folk opera, based on the quest of the show’s hero, Orpheus, to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld.

Mitchell wrote the book, music and lyrics, and took inspiration from anyone and everyone in developing the music for the show. She also enlisted director Rachel Chavkin to help both develop and flesh out her artistic vision for the show, which included fleshing out the characters who existed only in mythology.

Kimberly Marable and the company in a scene from “Hadestown.” Photo: T. Charles Erickson

There is an enduring theatrical tradition of an understudy stealing a performance. In the key role of Orpheus, the romantic but impoverished singing storyteller, understudy Chibueze Ihuoma – usually a member of the chorus — went on for on press night in place of Nicholas Barach and knocked it out of the park, using a soaring high tenor/falsetto voice that blended perfectly with the already mystical quality of the show.

His passion for the piece and musical numbers such as “Wait For Me” that were right in his vocal wheelhouse were vocal highlights and he partnered seamlessly and beautifully with as the more worldly Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice in their duets, especially “All I’ve Ever Known.”.

The narrator of the piece is the god Hermes (silky smooth Levi Kreis, attired in a natty silver suit), who in Greek mythology is the herald of the gods, which makes him a good choice to present the story.

The legend has Eurydice lured to the underworld by Hades (a menacing, magnificent Kevyn Morrow). Orpheus eschews the train to hell and takes the long way around to Hadestown to rescue her. Hades is eventually persuaded by his wife Persephone (an equally magnificent, vibrant Kimberly Marable)  to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living, but only if Orpheus has faith and does not look back at her as they leave the underworld, a massive underground factory town..

Marable makes for a lovely, lively Persephone, the goddess of springtime and nature, who spends six months of the year living above the ground in harmony with the earth before returning reluctantly to live with her megalomaniac husband. As Hades. Morrow shines in a menacing rendition of ”Hey, Little Songbird” and explains that is dangerous to trade freedom for security in “Why We Build The Wall.”

The music is an eclectic mix of folk, pop, work songs and New Orleans jazz – Rachel Hauck’s intriguing set is a tribute to New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Hall —-   performed by a jazzy seven-piece orchestra led by Cody Owen Styne that contributes mightily to the success of the production.

Mitchell and Chavkin came up with nice theatrical touches to help them tell the story. There are the three Fates – Shea Renne, Belen Moyano and Bex Odorisio – who are a Greek chorus of song, commenting, advising and in some cases mourning the events onstage.

Mitchell and Chavkin have also added a strong social justice aspect to the story; food, jobs and money are scarce, and Hades presides over a joyless, dystopian society where Eurydice and the other workers toil ceaselessly in terrible conditions.

A side story is the return of patrons to the Opera House and its grandeur. Ther Grand Dame of Boston theater, the Emerson Colonial Theatre begins presenting a mix of music and theater this month.

The stresses and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic have been their own form of hell, and Mitchell and Chavkin have shown us the way out through their lovely story. which in the end stresses unity and love, and hope even for those on the road to hell.

Broadway in Boston presents the national touring production of “Hadestown.” Music, lyrics, and book by Anais Mitchell. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. At Citizens Bank Opera House, Nov. 2-14. Tickets start at $44.50. broadwayinboston.com.