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A Timeless Yet Timely Story of Love in Hell: ‘Hadestown’ at the Civic Theatre

ArtsA Timeless Yet Timely Story of Love in Hell: ‘Hadestown’ at the Civic Theatre

A scene from "Hadestown"A scene from the national tour of “Hadestown” at the Civic Theatre. Photo by T Charles Erickson

In the electrifying opening number, you’re introduced to a railroad line that’s the road to hell. Destination: “Hadestown.”

Whether you get there by train car, bus, trolley or on foot  — get there, to see the fabulous touring production of the eight-time 2019 Tony Award-winning musical.

It’s fabulous even with understudies in two lead roles on the night I was there (Chibueze Ihuoma as Orpheus and Eddie Noel Rodríguez as Hermes, the messenger of the Olympian gods, who serves as our host and guide), both performing flawlessly along with the cast regulars: big-voiced Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice, marvelous Kimberly Marable as Persephone and basso profundo Kevyn Morrow as Hades. Commenting (and trouble-making) throughout are the Fates: Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne.

It’s amazing that myths like these can still move us after thousands of years and retellings. Clearly, humans haven’t changed all that much.

But the world around us has.

So when singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell created a concept album around the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, she had climate change on her mind, too.

In 2012, she teamed up with the wonderfully imaginative, multisensory director Rachel Chavkin (currently working on the West coast premiere of the Broadway-bound musical, “Lempicka,” at the La Jolla Playhouse). Together, they expanded the piece, imbuing it with even more relevance to our current society.

Incorporating the myth of the gods Hades and Persephone (King of the Underworld and his abducted Queen, who is allowed to spend half of each year above ground, bringing Spring back to the world), the creators also focused on issues surrounding climate change: poverty, hunger, and mega-rich megalomaniacs who mistreat their underlings/employees and build walls “to keep us free and keep out the Enemy” (prescient, since Mitchell wrote the song “Why We Build a Wall” ten years before Trump did just that).

Mitchell wrote the unique, edgy and energetic music, lyrics and book (for which she won a Tony for Best Score), Chavkin is credited with ‘development and direction’ (she scored a Best Direction Tony).

Other Tonys were awarded for the exciting, eye-popping lighting (Bradley King), crisp, engaging sound (Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz) and wild, New Orleans-looking, rotating scenic design (Rachel Hauck). Of course, the show garnered the Best Musical crown. And a Grammy for Best Musial Theater Album.

It’s easy to see why.

All the creative elements cohere beautifully, seamlessly, to tell this riveting tale. But in the midst of all the focus on power and politics, we never forget that this really is a love story.

In this version, both Orpheus and Eurydice are poor. He may be fed by his music, but she’s starving. He’s so busy trying to finish his one great song, his masterwork, that she is enticed by Hades to the Underworld, where she’s promised work and food.

What she didn’t realize is that she has to sign away her life, and she’s forced into hard labor with the unhappy masses (the excellent singing/dancing Workers Chorus).

It’s all accompanied by a magnificent eight-piece onstage orchestra, with nearly every move precisely, expertly choreographed (by David Neumann).

When Orpheus finds out that Eurydice is gone, he goes after her and begs Hades for her release, in the name of love. He sings his song for the jaded old man, which rekindles Hades’ love for Persephone. The god makes a deal: Orpheus can leave with Eurydice, but not hand-in-hand or side-by-side.

They have to walk silently, single file, and if he looks back at her even once, she’s lost to him forever.

We all know how that goes, and it breaks our heart every time.

As Hermes reminds us at the end, “It’s a sad song, but we sing it anyway, as if it might turn out differently. We keep singing it. We’re gonna sing it again and again.”

The timeless story never fails to land. And the brilliant way it’s told this time makes it well worth your taking a trip to hell and back.

  • “Hadestown,” the national tour brought to us by Broadway San Diego, runs through June 5 at the Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Street in downtown San Diego
  • Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
  • Running Time: 2 1/2 hours
  • Tickets (starting at $55.50) are at broadwaySD.com
  • COVID Protocol: Masks are recommended. There’s also a security/metal detector check that slows down your entry-time. Prepare to wait in line.

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.

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