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 doesnt 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 thats dramatized in HADESTOWN gives
the show an unexpected and welcome dimension as it transforms myth into
HADESTOWNS 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, its 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)