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  • Writer's pictureArts Angle Vantage Journalist

'Hadestown,' a dazzling musical story of love, sparks awe and touches the heart

By Cheyenne Farnsley | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

New Albany High School, Class of 2024

It ain’t for the sensitive of soul, so...

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Hermes, the messenger god, sings to Orpheus while pursuing Eurydice who has been lured to the underworld, that is Hadestown. And in this musical, “Hadestown,”

Orpheus: With all my heart

Hermes: Huh, with all your heart…

Well, that's a start

Hannah Whitley, J. Antonio Rodriguez and company the North American tour of "Hadestown." Photo by T. Charles Erickson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.

So goes “Wait for Me,” the most popular song in the musical “Hadestown” marking Orpheus’ journey.

On May 16, “Hadestown” opened at the Kentucky Center of the Performing Arts, with its story following the Greek myth of Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez) and Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) with Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham) as a guide. The cast contributed their talents to bring a tragic yet touching story to the stage that Tuesday night. With the revolving stage that moved with its cast and the intricate setting, the characters took the audience on a journey capable of moving many people (including me) to tears by curtain call.

The story and the performance were impressive, including the in-depth symbolism. The red carnation, pictured on the playbill, made multiple appearances throughout the show. In the number “Wait for Me,” that flower played an almost character-like role. Orpheus presented the red flower to his soon-to-be wife Eurydice after he made his way to her — step by step — to Hadestown. This symbol of love appears numerous times in the musical — even when the gruff Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) regains his love for his witty wife, Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras).

The flower’s use was no other than what can be described as romantic and intimate and magnified the on-stage chemistry of the multiple couples. Their relationships, strongly translated from the stage to the audience, made it hard to not gush every time that flower appeared. (Count me in there.) Plus, who doesn’t love a dash of romance and color?

Maria Christina Oliveras in the North American tour of "Hadestown." Photo by T. Charles Erickson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.

Costume designs by Michael Krass added to the symbolism. In “Livin’ it Up on Top,” Persephone sings, “Who makes the flowers bloom again, in spite of a man?” Oliveras’ strong vocals and flaunty movements portrayed a witty character, asking if “anybody wants a drink?” Dancing around in a tipsy-like way, Persephone sported a bright green dress to represent the season of summer. In another number, “Epic III,” Orpheus sings to Hades, “Where is the man with his arms outstretched? To the woman he loves…” He attempts to help Hades realize the love he has lost for his beautiful wife, Persephone. During this scene, Persephone wore a black dress, representing the wintertime, or better yet, the dullness of her relationship with her husband.

Oliveras’ vocal power matched Persephone’s wardrobe. The actress made her emotion more prominent on stage, even when it was already full of it. Her power was more than obvious as soon as she spoke for the first time in, “How Long?” with heartbreaking lyrics such as “He has the kind of love for her that you and I once had.” (Bring your tissues.) Her black dress with that strong voice was the perfect amount of emotion the numbers in Hadestown needed.

From the use of industrial lights to the smallest details on costumes, the musical provided other hidden meanings to make the production more intimate. David Neumann’s choreography during “Wait for Me” had workers surrounding Orpheus swinging the hanging lights around his character. The lights were close to the ground. The second time the workers swung the lights higher up around him. It made you feel as if you were being taken down to Hadestown with him.

These small effects made the Tony Award-winning performance even more impressive, and visually breathtaking. Rodriguez’s strong vocals as Orpheus and the extremely talented workers (chorus) surrounding him on the revolving stage made this scene memorable.

J. Antonio Rodriguez, Dominique Kempf, Nyla Watson and Belén Moyano in the North American tour of "Hadestown." Photo by T. Charles Erickson. Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.

Graham as Hermes, my favorite character in the show, was nearly a symbol himself. Dressed in a sprinkle of feathers and a charming smile. He truly blew me and the audience away as soon as he spoke the first couple of lines in the show, “Alright!” Everyone in the room reacted with laughter and cheers. Following this, his opening songs, “Road to Hell,” and “Way Down Hadestown,” made it difficult to take your eyes off him. With his swinging vocals and subtle dance moves, Hermes was the key ingredient that gave this “Hadestown” production its Americana personality.

The workers also elevated the production. Even though they weren’t shown in the bright spotlight, their dance moves and low grunts were heavily effective during numbers, such as “Chant.” The low grunts gave a spooky feel to the performance which connects with the tone of “Hadestown” overall.

Oliveras’ Persephone added a fun twist to the show with her jokes about booze enhanced by her twangy-like singing. Yet, her fun and witty personality was something that Hades himself didn’t even know he needed.

The show began in 2006 as a DIY theatre project in Vermont written by songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and was performed originally in concert. Mitchell later collaborated with director Rachel Chavkin at a theatre workshop in New York in 2016 before “Hadestown” opened on Broadway production in 2019, with their names highlighted by shimmering lights on a towering billboard in New York.

From these beginnings to this touring production, the journey and this performance of “Hadestown” succeed as purely heartfelt.

Cheyenne Farnsley, a New Albany High School junior, participates in Features, a section of the school’s yearbook, The Vista. The section covers news-based information. Whenever she isn’t taking names or meeting deadlines, you will find her reading a book or with her cat, Heathy. Cheyenne is planning on pursuing her passion for journalism after high school, in hopes to continue doing what she loves.


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