My son and I have been obsessed with Hadestown since the soundtrack was released. He’s memorized Workin’ on a Song. We quote it in our day-to-day conversation. So when Broadway was reopening, I knew this was the show we needed to prioritize. The tickets were our family Christmas present, but we didn’t actually see the show until mid-February.
It was worth the wait.
It was the kids’ first Broadway show. Previously, they had seen things at community theaters, universities, the small professional theaters where I’ve worked, and some TYA things at the Kennedy Center. They had no idea of the scale of Broadway. Watching them experience this for the first time was an absolute delight.
I also want to note that I felt very safe. The theater was packed, but everyone had to present proof of vaccination, and everyone was masked, most with KN95s. I saw an usher talk to somebody whose mask wasn’t on properly during the second half. They were enforcing it. I felt like I could take a break from worrying about COVID for once. The staff at the Walter Kerr Theatre were On It (the ushers even brought my kids booster cushions! Who knew that was a thing!).
I cannot say enough good things about this production. Rachel Chavkin is an endlessly fascinating director. One of the many things I loved about it was that, although it was in a Broadway theater, it didn’t have the cold, over-produced quality that some of those pieces can develop after a long run of 10-show weeks. The Kerr is a relatively intimate space; we got good seats, but even from the further seats, I think people still were able to see actors’ faces clearly without needing binoculars (I’ve seen a number of shows from the Binocular Zone; not worth the price of admission). The cast had a number of moments when it acknowledged that we, the audience, were in the room. At the beginning, Andre DeShields (who is a freaking legend) checked in with the cast, “A-ight?” and then turned to the audience and did the same, waiting for our response before counting off the top of the show. Lana Gordon, as Persephone, worked the crowd in the front row, connecting with individual people as well as the performers onstage. So much of the vibe in this show maintained the ensemble-based practices that built it, and I loved that.
Chavkin’s use of silence in this piece is notable, as well. It’s brave to leave a gap in the relentless score of a Broadway musical, but she had a number of moments where she let everyone pause and breathe in the stillness. My favorite was after Orpheus’ toast: “To the world we dream about. And the one we live in now.” The cast raised their cups to each other, and then turned out, offering the toast to the audience as well. The silence had a chance to settle around our shoulders, a moment to be human together, before the band leapt back into the rhythms of the score again.
There were also a number of really interesting moments where the words and the movements didn’t align, in a way that created dramatic tension. One of these was where Orpheus and Eurydice are falling in love. She’s singing, “All I’ve ever known is how to hold my own / But now I want to hold you,” but they aren’t doing the thing that would be the easy choice, which is embracing each other. The physicality of this moment is a very light and distant touch, showing the desire to physically connect, and the fear of connection. When they meet again in Hell, there’s no hesitation: A moment that echoes this earlier one, but shows that the question is entirely resolved.
I loved the choice at the end, to have the curtain call song (!) go unmiced. Hearing their bare, human voices in that space was so powerful as an ending.
Here’s a recording from the first night of the reopened show—even months later, the energy and gratitude was still so deeply part of this moment.
The design was fantastic. My kids’ eyes were so big when the walls shifted. They’d never seen anything like that before. My favorite design element was the practical lights on long cables that the actors swung like pendulums as Orpheus and Eurydice are trying to make their way out of the underworld. Practicals are always the right choice. The design did a lot to serve the story; there was no tech for its own sake.
The performances were incredible, especially Andre DeShields. He has so much pure presence. I also had this feeling, watching the actors onstage, that he’s the kind of person who connected with each of them, made them feel at home and welcomed and encouraged, brought them through things, made sure they shone. He was so clearly the center of this whole ensemble, while also constantly moving focus to others.
I also want to raise a glass to the unsung hero—Ken Cerniglia was the dramaturg, and there was so much I saw as being informed by dramaturgy, from the echoes of German expressionism in the movements of the people in Hell, to the interweaving of the two myths. Good dramaturgy is nearly invisible, but it matters.
This felt like the right play to see, in this moment. So many of the lines had weight that they couldn’t possibly have had Before. “The world comes back to life!” Amen. May it be so.