Last weekend, we were lucky enough to see Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown for the second time — the first time for my husband and my oldest daughter and son (for whom the trip was a birthday present), and the second time for me and my third oldest daughter. We saw it in the summer of 2019 on Broadway and I gave it a short review here. (If you’re not familiar with the show, you might want to click through there first, which actually discusses the plot and themes.)
This review will contain spoilers, but the whole thing of Hadestown is that we already know how the story turns out. It’s many thousands of years old, for one thing; and also, this is what humans do: We enter into stories that we know are tragedies, thinking maybe it will turn out different this time. So there really aren’t any spoilers.
Well, I had such a magnificent experience with the original cast that, when I was waiting for this show with the touring cast to begin, I was telling myself very sternly that it’s normal and right for a different cast to put their own mark on their roles. It’s also true that Hadestown, while a profoundly emotional work, is not emotionally manipulative, and doesn’t deliver the same experience every time anyway. So it wasn’t going to be exactly the same.
That said, I couldn’t help comparing the two casts and productions in my head as we watched, so here is what I thought.
First, we saw the original Broadway production at the Walter Kerr Theater, which is much smaller and more intimate. Here was our view of the stage in NYC in 2019:
and here was the view from our seats in Boston last weekend:
So you can see, it was going to be a different experience anyway.
There were some minor changes to the set and the way it moved around and lit, although it was hard to put my finger on what. The main thing I noticed was that, after Orpheus turns and Eurydice disappears away into the underworld, in this production she is swallowed up by a mouth-like aperture in the back (which also served as a train platform and other set pieces), rather than sinking down via a round platform built into the center of the stage (which is how they did it in NY). This arrangement, the aperture in the back, was surprisingly much more effective, and possibly done because it was bigger theater and, if they used the floor trick, the audience might see Eurydice scooting out a trap door (as I did from the balcony when they staged it this way at Walter Kerr!). It was very clear that Orpheus was within inches of reaching fresh air and sunshine when he stopped and turned, and Eurydice was gobbled up by the dark underworld, so it worked well (which didn’t stop the teenage girl in front of me from whisper-shouting, “Wait, wha happened?” right at that shattering moment when everyone in the theater momentarily died of grief. oh well!).
So: Original Broadway cast vs. touring cast!
The original Hermes was André De Shields; the touring Hermes was Levi Kreis. Ahem. Partly due to my very poor eyesight, my face blindness, and just my general confusion as I encounter life, I was fairly sure they had switched actors halfway through the production, and I couldn’t wait to talk about how weird it was that they did it without saying anything about it. When nobody wanted to talk about it, I gradually surmised that it was actually Levi Kreis all the way through; he had simply taken his hat off. It’s a trial, being me. But still, that will tell you something about this actor. He was fine, but not especially memorable, and did not do much to convey that he had been around for millennia and had seen some stuff (but could still be moved). He was just sort of a ringmaster.
Orpheus: Reeve Carney is the original. I preferred the new guy, Nicholas Barasch, but I could go either way with this role. Barasch’s voice was bigger and more sturdy and he came across as a little less weird, but still sufficiently lost and earnest, and sufficiently otherworldly. I think Carney did more with his body to convey who he was, and Barasch did more with his voice. Both very affecting. He made me cry (not that I’m made of stone).
Hades is Patrick Page in the original cast, Kevyn Morrow for touring. This is the only one that I felt really just couldn’t possibly be a fair comparison. Patrick Page was just preternaturally . . . Hadeslike. His voice penetrates in a way that most human voices don’t. Morrow had a thundering voice and a commanding, sinister, predatory presence, and when he heard Orpheus’ song and it reached him, and when he reconciled with Persephone, you believed it. The lyrics were a little indistinct sometimes, which is a shame. But in any other universe, without the comparison, he would have brought the house down. Really, no complaints.
The original Persephone Amber Gray; the touring, Kimberly Marable. This is the only touring performance I thought was lacking. Marable just didn’t make much of an impression on me, and she really must! She’s Our Lady of the Underground! It is a very difficult, strange role, no mistake. But Marable’s Persephone came across mainly as frustrated and vulgar, without much depth. Again, maybe it’s just unfair to have to follow Amber Gray, whose Persephone is so many-layered and delicately demented. Amber Gray defied gravity when she danced; Marable was merely very energetic. However, the critic in my head mostly shut up about halfway through, and by the time the story shifted to the relationship between Hades and Persephone, I was totally with them. It’s a good story.
The original Eurydice was Eva Noblezada, and the touring one is Morgan Siobhan Green. This was a clear improvement. Noblezada’s voice and acting struck me as understudy quality, and not on the same par with the rest of that cast. Green, though, was stellar. Her voice was piercing, and it and her body language added an awkward and frantic tone that helped round out her character a bit, making her more than just a drama girl.
The Fates were scary and great. I’m afraid I didn’t notice much difference between the two casts here. They’re malevolent and otherworldly and funny and mean, and their harmonies were just impeccable. Maybe the original cast were slightly more skilled dancers, but I don’t know.
Let’s talk about Eurydice! Orpheus is . . . poetry, basically, right? He’s the thing that makes you weep, rather than the thing that brings you bread and a roof over your head. But people need him desperately, because when they go without him and his songs, they end up, you know, dead, and/or stomping around in a circle wearing dirty overalls and building a wall for no reason. (My kids thought they pushed the “let’s unionize, everybody!” aspect of this production a little too hard, and said that “If It’s True” was basically a scene from Newsies, but I thought it was easy enough to take or leave, and you could certainly read it as being just about humanity, and not necessarily political).
Anyway, I was struck this time around by how strange it is that Orpheus is the one who’s put to the test at the end, rather than Eurydice. She is, after all, the reason they’re in this pickle. She signs away her soul just for a mouthful of food; so why isn’t she the one being tested at the end, to win their escape? But of course the reason she was lost was that she called and called on Orpheus, and he didn’t hear her, because he was too busy writing his dang song that would save the world. Pff, poets. Players. (But . . . he wasn’t just imagining it! He really could write such a song! And it really did change the world, and change the course of the story, maybe, or it might, next time, come winter . . . )
Anyway, as I understand it, the original score, which got taken out of the stage version, included more about Orpheus majorly overpromising things to Eurydice and then spectacularly failing to deliver, which explains their dynamic a little better. As it is, I think there’s a bit of a hole in the plot, or a bit of a hole in the character of Eurydice as written. This is my one and only quibble with the way the story is put together: That Eurydice’s actions make the least sense, and yet she’s the one whose actions get explicitly explained the most.
But, as the fates remind us, it’s easy to criticize when you have a full belly. Maybe next time, in a different frame of mind, I’ll come back to this show and her choice will make perfect sense to me. That’s the kind of show it is.
Overall, I adored it. Damien and the kids who hadn’t seen it yet were blown away. It’s a revolutionary piece of musical theater, and I believe people will be performing it for hundreds of years. If you can possibly see it performed by either cast, do so!
A final note on the Boston Opera House, for what it’s worth: Everyone was required to wear masks, and they were requiring proof of vaccination to get in, but they were pretty lenient about what counted as proof. I somehow lost my vaccination card, so they let me show ID and let Damien vouch that I had been vaccinated along with him. (We kind of felt like anyone paying money to see an Anaïs Mitchell show is probably vaccinated.)
The Boston Opera House is just a few blocks away from Chinatown, so we grabbed a quick dinner at The Dumpling Cafe and YOU GUYS. I may drive back to Boston just to get more duck buns. DUCK BUNS. I was so sad we didn’t have time to sit there for three hours ordering everything on the menu, because it was spectacular. Definitely go there, too.