Before you ask, yes, we know Hadestown isn’t coming to London until November. But here in the theatre fandom, we have a tendency to get excited about things long before they actually happen. So the fact that we still have about seven months to wait before we can actually see Hadestown isn’t going to stop us from gushing about it now. Nor should it.
At this point in time, Hadestown is still a bit of a closet musical, and while the fandom is dedicated, it’s not too widespread. So we’re guessing most of you need a little filling in on what may or may not be (to quote Vogue Magazine) “your next musical theatre obsession.”
The scoop on Hadestown:
Once upon a time in New York City, there was this inventive little musical called Hadestown which played at an Off-Broadway venue called The New York Theatre Workshop. The team behind the show included indie folk singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin (who once did this thing called Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 that you may have heard of).
Hadestown tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice – an old Greek myth which maybe needs it own scoop, but which we’ll abbreviate for the sake of time (and your attention span). Long story short, Orpheus is the greatest musician in Greece, and when he plays his lyre even the trees come closer to listen. He falls in love with Eurydice, who gets bitten by a poisonous snake and dies on their wedding day (real bummer). So Eurydice goes to the Underworld: the Greek equivalent of the afterlife ruled by the god Hades. Orpheus follows her to the Underworld (which is no small feat) and plays such beautiful music that Hades agrees to send Eurydice back with Orpheus on one condition: Orpheus can’t look back until both he and Eurydice are safely out of the Underworld. Well, you guessed it, Orpheus looks back at the last minute and loses Eurydice forever.
Yikes! What a terrible story! What sadistic person would ever want to retell it?
Turns out, just about everyone. Hadestown is simply the latest in a long line of retellings. Artists as famous as Christoph Willibald Gluck and J.R.R. Tolkien have taken their stab at the story in one form or another. Right here in London, as recently as March, there were two theatrical adaptations of the Orpheus myth playing simultaneously. So yes, it’s a thing.
Hadestown isn’t just a straight-up retelling, it takes some creative license with the Orpheus myth. For one thing, the setting isn’t ancient Greece, it’s more an eclectic New Orleans scene. And Hades is a foreman and industrial mastermind who lures Eurydice into the Underworld (also known as “Hadestown”) with promises of food and shelter. When Orpheus comes searching for his wife, his voice may have the power to set off a chain reaction, threatening Hades’ order with riot and chaos. Hadestown also focuses a bit more on Hades and his wife Persephone, goddess of spring, juxtaposing their relationship (which Orpheus calls “a love gone wrong”) with that of Orpheus and Eurydice. But overall, Hadestown sticks to the myth’s main plot points.
What else do you need to know? There’s a soundtrack! A live cast album was recorded at the New York Theatre Workshop, and you can listen on various streaming channels and on YouTube. It’s an indie-flavored mash up of New Orleans jazz, American folk, and possibly some other things. We dare you to listen to just one song.
Now Hadestown will be reborn again at the National Theatre in London, with a run from 2 November to 26 January. After that, it transfers to Broadway, so you’d better catch it while it’s over on this side of the Atlantic.
In the meantime, we’re guessing you’re going to need some good theatre to hold you over until Hadestown gets here, so here are a few ideas….
For a new take on a classic myth, try Peter Pan at Regent’s Park.
For a jazzy, underground musical, try the dazzling new Miss Nightingale.
For an inventively staged love story tinged with darkness, try The Grinning Man.
For a passionate, sweeping tale about love gone wrong (with gorgeous music), try the Russian State Opera’s Carmen.
And, of course, how could we leave out the ultimate tale of love, heartache, betrayal, underground lairs, and a domineering mastermind? We’re telling you, Phantom is always a good idea.