APPLETON – Hope vs. Despair is a trope that has been played out in stories through time. Sometimes even the recounting of an ancient tale with a known ending still evokes the hope that something in the story will turn out differently. “Hadestown,” which is playing at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center through Sunday, focuses on this concept.
The show weaves two love stories from ancient Greek mythology: the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the story of the god of the underworld Hades and his wife Persephone.
Orpheus, the son of a muse with a gift of music and an optimistic view of what the world could be like, falls in love with Eurydice, a poor hungry girl who has seen her darkest parts. When Eurydice makes a deal with Hades and ends up in the underworld, Orpheus goes to save her lover and tries to restore balance in an unstable world riddled with storms and brutal weather conditions – the result of the tense union between Hades and Persephone , the goddess in control of spring.
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If you are not familiar with the history of Orpheus and Eurydice, I recommend that you do not review it before seeing the show. If you know the story, you’ll watch it unfold in a beautiful way.
Without any dialogue outside of its music, “Hadestown” has been called a folk opera. The music, by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, is full of brassy, moving numbers and haunting folk melodies.
Rather than hiding in an orchestra pit, the group shares the stage with the actors, seated on risers on either side of the stage, and sometimes gets involved in the storytelling. Some actors on stage – including Orpheus and the Three Fates – also carry instruments and contribute to the music of the show. It’s teamwork and the result is a cohesive and powerful soundtrack.
There was no curtain during the show. Spectators took their seats in front of the empty set, which consisted of a spiral staircase leading to a balcony in New Orleans, a rustic blue wall, risers on both sides of the stage for musicians, and stacked metal chairs above tables like a closed restaurant.
Musicians and actors entered from the wings to open the show. They greeted the audience as they took their seats, breaking through the fourth wall, as if acknowledging their role as actors and musicians telling a story.
The unique opening to “Hadestown” suited a performance that exists in some kind of abstract setting, outside of a specified time and place. The setting and the costumes are both depressive and dystopian.
The stage and light design of the show was amazing – it’s no wonder “Hadestown” won the Tony Awards in 2019 for both, in addition to “Best Musical” and five other awards. Sudden, bright, colorful lighting signified the arrival of Persephone to the upper world for the summer, and bright, vivid lights in the underworld helped portray the kingdom of Hades as a grueling, lifeless factory. heart without a hint of natural life.
Tuesday’s opening night at Appleton saw a few cast changes, including liners Will Mann and Shea Renne as Hermes and Persephone.
As the narrator, Hermes, the messenger god, introduces the characters and guides the audience through the show. Mann played the role with showman flair, playing the light parts of the show and taking on a somber air when the story gets more serious.
Reindeer’s Persephone was a force to be reckoned with. Her sassy and moving voice was best highlighted in “Our Lady of the Underground”.
The other protagonists of the show were Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice, Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus and Kevyn Morrow as Hades.
Eurydice de Green was a tired, rather wise street girl, hardened by the things she saw. She sang with impressive vocal riffs, leaning into lyrics that invite the audience to see the raw and raw parts of her world.
Morrow commanded the scene as Hades, the god of the underworld and factory manager of Hadestown, where souls work endlessly to build his kingdom. Dressed in a leather trench coat over a shiny striped suit and wearing sunglasses, Hades gives off a businessman-meets-meets-“The Matrix” vibe. Morrow’s deep voice was both creepy and captivating, best portrayed in “Hey Little Songbird” and “Why We Build the Wall”.
And although there was no weak link in the cast, the outstanding performance of the night came from Orpheus de Barasch. The character’s musical ability is central to the plot of “Hadestown,” as Orpheus seeks to write a song that will bring back spring. Barasch sings and acts with a seriousness and innocence that makes him impossible not to seek out, hitting high notes and singing the show’s melodic theme with ethereal beauty. The show’s most powerful number was “Wait for Me,” which heavily featured Barasch and will absolutely give you chills.
Barasch’s pure, heartfelt tone and Green’s soulful belt complement each other in a way that perfectly reflects their characters and the unlikely and tragic love story between them. Likewise, Morrow’s deep, cold and stoic voice paired well with Renne’s wide, jazzy range, underscoring the hot and cold relationship between Hades and Persephone.
Tuesday night’s show had a sound issue with Orpheus’ guitar during “Epic III,” a powerful number in which he features the song he worked on throughout the show for Hades. Barasch stopped playing the guitar and finished the a capella song, but he performed it so well that I’m not quite sure it wasn’t the stage directions.
“Hadestown” has an incredible amount of layers; If assigned in an English classroom, around 100 analytical essays could be written focusing on different elements of the production and the script. The show’s central theme revolves around unlikely hope, but it also embodies topics such as climate change, the exploitation of workers, and the contradictory concept of building a wall for freedom.
If you get the chance to see “Hadestown” you should definitely do it; poetry and music are guaranteed to stay with you long after the band has played the last notes.
Tickets for “Hadestown” can be purchased online through Ticketmaster, or by phone at 800-982-2787 or through the Fox Cities PAC ticket office in person or by phone at 920-730-3760. The PAC ticket office is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.