Review by Willard Manus

HADESTOWN is a musical that lives up to its hype. After sold-out runs–-and numerous awards–-HADESTOWN comes to L.A. (and Costa Mesa later) in a snazzy, brash production that casts a hypnotic spell. The creative genius behind the show, Anais Mitchell, has written a wall-to-wall score in which all dialogue is sung, not spoken. Her jazzy songs are delivered by an 18-person cast that also dances spiritedly and pulsatingly (as choreographed by David Neuman) in non-stop fashion.

HADESTOWN is roughly based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician whose wife Eurydice dies of a poisonous snake bite. He follows her down to the Underworld, where he charms the fearsome three-headed dog guarding the entrance. Even Hades and Persephone, king and queen of the dead, are seduced by his music. They agree to let him take Eurydice back to the upper world as long as he doesn’t look back at her until they reach the light of day. When they are a few steps away from sunlight, Orpheus can resist no longer, looks back, and loses her forever.

In 1607 Monteverdi turned the myth into an opera. Gluck followed a century later with his version, which reformed the Baroque opera tradition. Now Anais Mitchell has taken her shot at the story, which I have always found irritating in the extreme.

Mitchell, though, overcame my irritation with her update of the myth, which she sets, roughly, in a New Orleans speakeasy and features a youthful, multi-ethnic cast. Heading it in the role of Hermes (a master of ceremonies) is Levi Kreis, a dynamic performer. He takes neophyte songwriter Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) under his wing and introduces him to Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green), a hippie chick. They fall in love and immediately burst into passionate song.

Lord and master of the Underworld is Hades (Kevyn Morrow), a sinister, deep-voiced gangster. He treats his moll Persephone (Kimberly Marable) as badly as he does everyone else who works for him–-a bunch of resentful proletarians. The class war that’s dramatized in HADESTOWN gives the show an unexpected and welcome dimension as it transforms myth into reality.

HADESTOWN’S rousing, high-flying songs and dances–-and its gritty social truths–-make for a riveting and satisfying experience. Regarding the end of the story, with Eurydice dying because of Orpheus’ fatal flaw, it’s interesting to note that neither Mitchell, Gluck nor Monteverdi finished their works the way the Greek myth did. In the original version, Orpheus, overcome with grief, wandered the mountains, where he met a bunch of women maddened by the God Dionysus. The women tore him apart and threw his head into a river. Still singing, it was washed down to the sea.

Serves the jerk right.

(Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-4400 or visit centertheatregroup.org)