By Mike Danahey
Ash Wednesday was the perfect day to take in the opening night for the tour of the Tony-winning Broadway musical “Hadestown,” which plays the CIBC Theatre in the Loop through March 13.
For starters, the show is set in a sort-of Depression era, sort-of Apocalyptic New Orleans that seems to be suffering a post Mardi Gras hangover.
Wednesday also happened to feel a bit like spring – at least until I left the parking garage and felt the sting of a downtown breeze. Yeah, I didn’t wear a winter coat, just a sports coat.
Oh. I picked the wrong belt, too, which was too small, because I am too big, which meant going without one and risking my pants falling down, which was a possibility, given the 90-minute drive down the dastardly Eisenhower left me punch drunk, which added to the drama of suburban me ambling my way from my car in that awful amber street lighting the Loop now has, which is a really, really long way of saying…
“Hadestown” holds visions of spring and hell, seasoned with songs that make you hungry for gumbo and a trip to Louisiana. The trombone playing alone is worth your ticket.
The show offers a take on Greek mythology involving Hades, the King of the Underworld, Persephone, his trophy wife and goddess of spring, and the star-crossed young lovers Eurydice and her boyfriend, the singer-songwriter Orpheus.
It’s a tale told by Hermes (Levi Kreis), messenger of the gods, who in this case, dresses a tad Superfly TNT, Huggy Bear style. He’s very disco, but with different beats and a smooth, old school R&B voice.
Come to think of it, a disco would be a good setting for a musical like “Hadestown,” too, a disco from the late 70s or early 80s, like the notorious Studio 54. But I’m veering off track.
Which brings me back to Hermes, who’s fond of blowing a train whistle for his numbers, which are heavy on railroad imagery as there’s a good deal of travel between worlds taking place.
When the play opens Persephone (Kimberly Marable) is heading up from the underworld on spring break.
Hades (Kevyn Morrow) lets her leave for six months to bring sunshine and smiles to the Earth. You know how gods are. They make their own rules.
Persephone hangs out at the same place where Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) meets Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch).
Eurydice is cold, tired and hungry after a lousy winter. Like many wannabe American Idol types, Orpheus is waiting tables while he works on his tunes.
While he’s taking freaking forever to finish his breakout number, Orpheus is also impulsive. As soon as he sees Eurydice sitting at a table waiting for somebody to take her order, he tells her he wants to marry her.
Right there, you know things most likely aren’t going to turn out well.
Frankly, I don’t know what Eurydice sees in the guy. The ballad everybody keeps telling Orpheus could hit the top of the Billboard charts seems the weakest number in the show. That’s in large part because Orpheus sings in falsetto.
Ouch! Orpheus would never cut it as a member of the Chi-Lites, the Stylistics or the Temptations. Given the NOLA feel of most of the “Hadestown” score, consider Aaron Neville, who could eat this Orpheus for lunch and still be hungry. Tell it like it is, indeed.
Oh! Wait! Now I get it. Sort of. I don’t get Ed Sheeran either, so Orpheus IS the Ed Sheeran of this musical!!!!
Back to the story.
ADHD Orpheus gets lost in his work, neglecting Eurydice, who is decidedly more down to earth. She wants food, shelter and warm clothing. That kind of stuff.
Particularly since conniving Hades summons Persephone back home early, meaning the world’s climate changes toward Polar Vortex time.
While Orpheus revises his song for the umpteenth time, Hades – who dresses a bit like Morpheus from “The Matrix” – spots Eurydice and cons her into coming to work for him in his town.
Turns out, Hades built a foundry to warm down under and to keep Persephone in check.
Wife be damned, Hades also goes full Harvey Weinstein on Eurydice before sending her to take her place with the other minions making heat.
Clueless Orpheus has his head up his own ass. All this happens before he even realizes his gal pal has gone away on the worst CareerBuilder placement ever.
Our boy ingenue decides to head for Hades himself, to bring Eurydice back, if nothing else so she can hear his ballad.
Since he didn’t get the invite to the underworld, Little Orpheus Eddie has to take a roundabout route, by foot.
Of course, once Orpheus finds Eurydice, she can’t just pick up and leave. She signed a contract. The things people do when they are cold, tired and hungry.
However, because this is a musical – and Greek mythology – Orpheus gets a chance to convince Hades to let them go back above.
Sweet Orpheus also stirred up Hadestown like a redheaded Norma Rae, so Hades has to be careful. Next thing you know there will be a union forming. The things the music of Ed Sheeran can do.
Hades lets the boy sing for him. He’s moved by the song, which reminds him of falling in love with Persephone. Ed Sheeran has that power over some folks. He can mend relationships.
However, Hades, being diabolical, decides to let the couple walk home under one condition. Eurydice has to trek behind Orpheus, and Orpheus cannot look behind himself to see if Eurydice is there.
I didn’t read the terms of the deal, but it wasn’t clear if O and E could play Marco Polo or otherwise call out to see where they both were.
So just when you think there might be hope for a happy ending…well, we are talking about Orpheus here, the guy with attention span issues.
Eurydice takes the elevator back down to Hadestown.
The play begins again, spring bringing hope, however fleeting, our dreams slapped about by reality.
As with a lot of good art, the metaphors in “Hadestown” abound and can fit the times.
You could see Hades as an oligarch, Putin’s pappy.
If you’re a sports fan, Hades is like an MLB owner, another Tom Ricketts, which is why you should root for the White Sox, not the Cubs.
But I’m sticking to picking on Orpheus.
Sure, he seems all sweet and naive. But on the way home from Hadestown, my theory is Orpheus realizes he’s a pop star.
In Hadestown, he figured out his middle of the road songs and benign boyishness appeal to key demographics. Inoffensiveness sells to grandmothers, quieter teens, wine-drinking moms, dad joke-making dads and is great for backyard barbecues in Naperville.
Orpheus also saw firsthand why you need a contract. He never had Eurydice sign a prenup. After her Hadestown trauma, you know she’s going to demand one.
With her out of the picture, though, there’s no buddy to bug Orpheus like Eurydice did about life’s essentials.
Orpheus loses the girl, but he has his career – and all that cash that comes with being Ed Sheeran, king of the downloads.
Some things never change.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson, courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.