Down to the New Hadestown


Camryn Robins, Arts and Entertainment Writer

A woman dressed in silver makes her way onstage. The other players are all set; she hugs them and takes her place standing by the trombonist, violinist, and cellist.


Now the show can begin. 


And so it does. The music begins, a swelling wave that washes over the audience.


Hadestown, a musical created by Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin, made its Broadway debut in March 2019 and has won eight Tonys. Hadestown stars Eva Noblezada as Eurydice (OBC), Reeve Carney as Orpheus (OBC), Patrick Page as Hades (OBC), Lillias White as Hermes, and Jewelle Blackman as Persephone. The set is wonderful and intricate; the center of the stage presents three concentric circles, each of which move in different directions. 


The musical is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which the son of a muse (Orpheus) falls in love with a nymph (Eurydice), only for her to die after being bitten by a snake. Orpheus then travels to the Underworld to retrieve his lost love. Hadestown tells the story slightly differently; it is set in a dystopian world, where Orpheus is a poor poet trying to write a song to fix the world, and Eurydice, his love interest, is just trying to survive. Hadestown also includes Persephone, the goddess of the spring, and Hades, the god of the underworld.


In the first song of the play, Hermes introduces us to the major players: the Fates (ill-intentioned characters who follow Eurydice around), along with Persephone and Hades. After introducing the audience to the gods, Hermes redirects the spotlight to the Chorus, Band, Orpheus, and  Eurydice.


Orpheus proposes to Eurydice with a paper flower, and miraculously, by the end of “Wedding Song” it is a real flower. The two spend the summer together, very much in love. Orpheus works on his song- the one that will “bring the world back into tune / Back into time.” As all good things often come to an end, the serenity of their summer is interrupted when Hades takes Persephone. 


This storyline also follows Greek mythology, which tells of Persephone living in the mortal realm for half the year (spring and summer), causing the world to flourish and flowers to bloom, but the other months with Hades in the Underworld, causing the world to grow cold and plants to shrivel (winter). 


Hades’s arrival is abrupt, causing the world to slip back into suffering and hardship. Before he leaves, Hades gives Eurydice a ticket to Hadestown (a.k.a the Underworld), and implies that her life there will be one of peace. Eurydice tries to stay with Orpheus, but curiosity overtakes her and she takes the train down to Hadestown. She signs her mortal life away, and finds that life in Hadestown is not the one of peace and happiness as Hades had promised- rather it is an eternity of grueling work. The miserable and destitute workers of Hadestown spend their days building a wall to – as Hades claims – keep them safe from poverty. Additionally, Hades states that “the war is never won” and is essentially brainwashing the workers into believing that their endless labor is a form of freedom.


Orpheus sings his way into Hadestown, desperate to be reunited with the love of his life. He finds her alone, having just finished singing “Flowers.” Hades interrupts their reunion and informs Orpheus that Eurydice belongs to him, having signed herself away. Orpheus consequently decides to start a riot.


Throughout the show, the audience watches the evolution of Orpheus and Eurydice’s relationship, particularly from the eyes of Persephone. She believes in their love, and even sees them as younger versions of herself and Hades, as seen in “How Long?” when Persephone says to Hades, “[Orpheus] has the kind of love for [Eurydice] that you and I once had.”

Hades and Persephone dancing, Orpheus singing “Epic III” in the background.

Eventually, Hades makes a deal with Orpheus. He agrees to let Orpheus take Eurydice home, as long as Eurydice walks behind him. Hades adds that if Orpheus ever looks back, Eurydice will go back to Hadestown, and there she will stay. As Orpheus leads Eurydice and the workers back to the real world, he begins to feel anxious that Eurydice is not actually behind him. This is seen through magnificent choreography; the Fates swirl around, sowing the seeds of doubt in Orpheus; Eurydice fades in and out of the shadows (while Orpheus sings of his doubt, she is cloaked in darkness, but when she sings to reassure him of her presence, she steps back into the light). They continue walking for the song’s duration, coming closer to freedom with every step. Eurydice walks to one side of the stage, close to the audience, and sings: Orpheus / You are not alone / I am right behind you / And I have been all along. 


But Orpheus cannot resist the temptation to ease his suspicions, so he turns around in the middle of this lyric, immediately cutting Eurydice off. The audience sees that Eurydice is indeed behind him. All is silent for a moment as the two lovers stare at each other. They echo prior lines, ones which once carried so much love, now carry hopelessness. Eurydice, now on the center circle, is slowly lowered. Orpheus reaches out desperately to grasp her hand, but she slips through. As she falls, we see her face fall in anguish as she is returned to Hadestown, never to return to the surface, doomed to a hellish life in the underworld.


After this tragic moment, the play resets to something similar to the first song’s setup. The players toast, the lovers meet once more, and Persephone returns from the Underworld, though this time she’s in time for spring (last time she was late; this implies that Orpheus did succeed at bringing the world “back into tune”).


Though there are many parallels between the two couples throughout the show, this was emphasized more in the original version of the musical, where Orpheus and Eurydice stated the exact lines Hades and Persephone had said earlier in the show. When Hades collected Persephone, she said, “You’re early” and he replied, “I missed you.” At the end of the show, when Orpheus turned to check on Eurydice too soon, they repeated these lines. However, in the newer version, this was exchanged for the repetition of Orpheus and Eurydice’s own previous lines.

To elaborate on the thoughtful new details of the play, the choreography is stunning. As previously stated, the rotating circles are mechanized in such remarkable ways, enhancing the visuals of the play. One thing that I found interesting about the dances, is that when Eurydice goes to Hadestown, she mimics the movements of the other workers, emphasizing her desire to assimilate into the society of the Underworld. The music itself is incredible, and the performers imbue each note with astounding skill and emotion. All in all, Hadestown is a magical experience, and definitely a show to check off your bucket list.