By: Kelly Chia, Editor-in-Chief
You might know the Greek myth of Orpheus: the talented musician who journeys to rescue his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld. Hades promises Orpheus he can have Eurydice only if he walks out of the underworld without looking back. Famously, his doubt overtakes him, and he looks back at the last moment, losing Eurydice forever. This myth seems like a simple story of naïvete — and yet, it still captures the imagination. In Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, audiences reckon with the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the cozy setting of a New Orleans speakeasy. Mitchell tackles themes of industrialism and climate change through the gods Hades and Persephone’s fraught relationship with each other, brilliantly grounding Greek mythos into a jazzy, hopeful performance for modern audiences.
The talented cast at Broadway Across Canada just put on Hadestown at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and The Peak attended their opening performance. Although the seats around me were filled with hundreds of attendees, the intimate atmosphere of the stage drew me right in.
The musical is narrated by the spirited and charismatic messenger god, Hermes (Will Mann), who acts as Orpheus’ guide. Hermes tells us that Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) is touched by the gods, and indeed, Rodriguez’s performance brings you into the mind of a naïve yet inspired boy with hopes to better the world. His first lines immediately charm the audience. After being told by Hermes to “take it easy” on his crush, Orpheus blurts, “Come home with me,” to Eurydice (Amaya Braganza.) The audience laughs, and their mythic story starts.
It’s also Hermes who introduces us to the brilliant performers playing the gods, Hades and Persephone, whose relationship brings the very seasons of the world. The two are dynamically opposed — the goddess of spring, played by Lana Gordon, dances onto the stage, bringing it to life with the pep of a live firecracker. Meanwhile, industrial, thrumming instrumentals back Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), god of the underworld. I found Quinn’s bass voice and his gravitas ideal for a god who commands the underworld, where Eurydice finds herself. Hades and Persephone have a terrible quarrel, manifesting as a storm on the surface. Braganza’s performance here stuns; she belts heartfelt notes, begging for mercy under the deadly storm, and she is impossible to look away from.
It takes some brilliant acting from Rodriguez to have left Eurydice to die alone, and still feel like a believable hero. We empathize with his struggles through the underworld to find Eurydice in one of the strongest numbers of the show, “Wait for Me,” where the stage and chorus morph from smalltown speakeasy to the looming industrial walls of the titular Hadestown, where the dead toil.
Although I’ve praised the impressive vocal performances of this cast, one moment in the play really struck me. As Hades hesitantly sings his courting song to Persephone — one he hasn’t sung in a very, very long time — the two embrace. The band softens to gentle lulls. Hermes breathlessly says, “And brother, you know what they did? They danced!” And they do, to a rousing instrumental of strings, playing to a world that has woken up. Tears pricked my eyes as Quinn and Gordon held each other like old lovers learning to laugh again.
Hadestown ends the same way Orpheus’ tale does, after Mitchell makes you see how love drives gods and men, and how that, in turn, empowers the world. But Hadestown certainly doesn’t end pessimistically. Instead, the central theme of the musical is Orpheus’ unending hope that love is enough to save his Eurydice, and even the world. Even though we know his tale ends, the cast will sing their stories again and again, hoping one day, the two will have a happy ending, and our world in turn will look as hopeful as Orpheus envisioned. Hadestown is one of my favourite musicals, and the divinely touched cast at Broadway Across Canada nailed it.
Catch more musicals from Broadway Across Canada at Queen Elizabeth Theatre as they grace the stage for Mean Girls January 23–28, 2024.