Citadel Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Nov. 11 to Dec. 3, 2017
Tickets start at $30.

Review by Graham Hicks, Hicksbiz.com

Hadestown is a beautiful, rich mix of all that is good and right in American performance art.

That said, it has its problems.

No report on Hadestown can take place without considering the current context.  The acclaimed musical,  close to a modern-day opera, is getting its final polish here at the Citadel Theatre before its producers and financial backers move the show to Broadway.

The production,  based on a concept album by the talented and distinctive American songwriter/singer Anais Mitchell, contemporizes and universalizes the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  

Hadestown was a major off-Broadway hit in New York City. But it had to be adapted from an intimate theatre space to the big spaces of Broadway theatres.  Enter the Citadel’s 681-seat Shoctor Stage.

So The Hadestown we are watching in Edmonton is not yet a final product.  It may be a dress, dress rehearsal but it will still undergo many changes before its Broadway opening.

Banish from your head any thoughts of this being a Greek mythological tragedy – there are no togas,  garlands or lightning bolts other than the allegorical.  It’s closer to a sci-fi take on Porgy & Bess (with Mad Max costumes) than the Iliad.

Second, sit back and allow yourself to be submersed in a near-unique theatrical experience, one you’ve likely not experienced before. 

The music and lighting are actors unto themselves. The unusual musical composition and its performance by on-stage band and singers is as tightly intertwined with plot as is theatrically possible.

A show where, as an audience member, you have a choice of seeing this production through any number of lenses -  romantic, ideological, sociological, political, moral – or simply enjoying a lovely collection of songs so lavishly illustrated.

Hadestown is abstract but not abstract.

Yes, it follows the basic plot line of the classic Greek tale - of the singer Orpheus who travels to the underworld to rescue his lost lover Eurydice. In a triumph of light and bright and everything right, Orpheus  almost brings Eurydice out of the shadows and back to life … but for his human frailty.

In this story, Orpheus is a down-on-his-luck singer/songwriter. The settings of Hadestown are abstract, but the references are to Depression-era rural America, where the steam-whistle era train to Hadestown passes through twice a year, bringing with it spring and winter. Orpheus finds the beautiful Eurydice as a rail-track street-kid. They fall instantly in love, two youth with nothing but dreams.

In its universal themes – quite different from the Greek myth – Eurydice is lured away from Orpheus by promises of food, shelter, continuous employment in the industrial/military complex of the underground (and underworld) Hadestown.

The ending returns to the Greek myth. Orpheus, with his beautiful voice and lyrics, softens up the cold, cold heart of King Hades. Orpheus is allowed to return with his Eurydice from the land of darkness and shadows to life itself – only to be thwarted by a condition he fails to meet.

There’s beautiful moment after beautiful moment in this production. 

Of Mitchell’s 33 songs, a handful deserve to be classics of American musical theatre. Wait For Me sends shivers down my spine. All I’ve Ever Known is as wistful a love song as has ever been written. Why We Build the Wall features the profondo basso of veteran Broadway musical actor Patrick Page as King Hades, his voice so rich and deep it shakes the foundations of the well-anchored Citadel.

At the same time, the show hits a dreary stretch through the first half of the second act.

The blocking (the actors’ movements) in these tiresome scenes is centred around a mid-stage double-revolving carousel – clock-wise on the inside, counter clock-wise on the outside. It’s used so often that its dramatic impact dries up. You just want the damned thing to stop.

The other problem – probably unique to this production – is the lack of chemistry between T.V. Carpio as Eurydice and Reeve Carney as Orpheus.  Something doesn’t click between these two and the audience senses it from the get-go. Of course they have beautiful voices, or they wouldn’t be in this show, especially Carney’s soaring tenor.

But on a CD released from the original cast, Orpheus (Damon Daunno) and Eurydice (Nabiyah Be) have way more soul .

And soul – its abundance, its absence, the musical style itself – is what Hadestown is all about.

You don’t want to miss this show -  Songstress Anais Mitchell  is so original and creative as to be a latter-day Joni Mitchell (no relation). Anais simply arrived at the theatre as a creative outlet earlier than did Joni (with the Alberta Ballet late in her musical journey.) 

The musical arrangements, as brought forth by the splendid seven-person band, are spellbinding. Never has the trombone, as played by Audrey Ochoa, been so deeply soulful.

We often brag that Citadel Theatre productions are so well done as to often equal Broadway quality. Still, it’s a treat to see the ultimate best of North American musical theatre – with its financial resources – being performed way up here in the cool, cool, north.