Unlike any musical I have seen before


The West End has waited a long time for its production of Hadestown. This blues-y, woozy show from singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell started life touring in a school bus as a community theatre project in Vermont in 2006. It had a sell-out run at the National Theatre in 2018, won eight Tony Awards just before Covid and now finally shimmies its seductive self into London musical theatre big time.

Hadestown is quite unlike any musical I have seen before – and it is all the better for that. Mitchell and director Rachel Chavkin have worked closely and rigorously together over many years and multiple iterations of the show to create a languid and sinuous production that intertwines the Greek myths of Hades/Persephone and Orpheus/Eurydice. The time period is indistinct, but there are faint echoes of the Great Depression, with Rachel Hauck’s set adding hints of the picturesque decrepitude of old Havana.

Melanie La Barrie as Hermes the messenger god in ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Orpheus (Dónal Finn), a penniless artist desperate to finish his masterpiece song, falls instantly in love with steely but sweet Eurydice (Grace Hodgett-Young), for whom life has been tough. Hermes (Melanie La Barrie), the messenger god in a natty silver suit, is our charismatic narrator and a beguiling trio of Fates, part Greek chorus and part Macbeth’s witches with a glow-up and a turbo-charged musical ability, haunt the action.

Love is lovely, but Eurydice is hungry in these hardscrabble times. She is enticed by Hades (Zachary James), a towering figure in black leather trench coat and black-tinted glasses, to go down to his eponymous underworld, which he has turned into an artificially lit inferno of manufacturing. Since his relationship with Persephone (Gloria Onitiri), who brings spring and the harvest to the earth, has soured, the climate is out of kilter and the seasons are grievously malfunctioning.

The story is, admittedly, spread very thinly, patches of the second half feel slightly threadbare and style triumphs over substance – but what style Chavkin’s production displays. Mitchell’s sweeping music, with shifting inflections of folk and New Orleans jazz, is captivating from the propulsively rhythmic opening number “Road to Hell”. Finn deploys a startling falsetto in songs that shimmer between poignant and plangent and James has precisely the imperious bass voice that one would desire for the god of the underworld.

Hodgett Young capitalises on all the promise she displayed when she made her debut in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Sunset Boulevard last autumn, confirming that she is very much a name to watch.

Lay aside all unhelpful preconceptions of Greek myth and musical theatre and allow yourself to be wooed by the hazy, dazy atmosphere of this splendidly sultry show.

At Lyric Theatre, London to 22 December (0330 333 4812, nimaxtheatres.com)

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