The Kennedy Center Goes Way Down Hadestown

Image Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson

By Katherine Plunkett

The Tony award-winning musical Hadestown opened at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. As part of the show’s North American Broadway tour, the musical will be running until October 31. Jazzy and soulful, the musical explores touching themes of hardship and love through songs that will linger in your mind for weeks to follow. 

Inspired by two tales from Greek mythology, the musical follows the parallel love stories of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone. Set in a dystopian, Depression-era world, the mortal characters face hardships related to extreme weather and erratic seasons while the tension between the gods is the cause of it. Orpheus is a poet who is working on a song that will “put the world back into tune.”

From the opening number to the softly-sung post-bows song, there is something electric about the energy created by the music and the actors. Hadestown is riveting and gut-wrenching, and for the show’s duration, you hardly dare to breathe lest you miss a brilliantly crafted lyric or subtly poignant gesture. The musical is masterfully written, performed, and executed, from the starring roles to the small, intimate ensemble. 

The beauty of Hadestown goes much further than the immense talent of its writer and actors; it also lies in the incredibly relevant and emotional themes that underlie the show. One of the most prominent themes is the dichotomy between the rich and poor, represented through the wealthy businessman Hades and his overworked and abused factory workers, which is reminiscent of the Great Depression and early labor movements. The show demonstrates the power of worker solidarity and the importance of allowing everyone their own voice. 

Connecting all the themes present in the musical, from worker solidarity to feminism, environmentalism, and tyranny, is the overarching theme of hope. Orpheus is an idealist who believes in a better world that he is working to realize. This theme is infused in every minute of the performance, telling the audience that to hope is to fight a noble and crucial battle for justice. Within the realms of both the show and the audience, Orpheus “could make you see how the world could be / In spite of the way that it is.” 

The lively, entertaining opening number draws you in and the powerful messages and emotion-filled performances keep you hooked. Achieving a perfect balance between fun and witty and deep, heart-breaking numbers, the musical is not a performance but an experience. There is so much occurring on stage to take in, and it is paced perfectly to allow you to do so. By the intermission, you have discovered Eurydice’s weakness and the symbolism of Persephone’s costume, and by the end of the second act, you have realized the beauty of the anonymous, diverse ensemble in its representation of the whole of humanity. 

Hadestown is perfect for lovers of theater, literature, myth, social commentary, jazz, soul, and unexpected endings. There is something for everyone in the musical, not just covered in the variety of songs and scenes but also in the inspiring messages that touch on so many relevant issues. Hadestown heightens your awareness and makes you want to join the characters in a toast “to the world we dream about/ And the one we live in now.”

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