Singer-songwriter Mitchell’s concept album ‘Hadestown’ thrives on the Broadway stage in all its unconventional glory

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Singer-songwriter Mitchell’s concept album ‘Hadestown’ thrives on the Broadway stage in all its unconventional glory

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Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown was nominated for 14 Tony Awards at last Sunday’s Tony Awards, the most any Broadway show has received since blockbuster hit Hamilton garnered 16 in 2016. The musical, for which Mitchell wrote both the book and score, tells a variation on the Greek myth of Orpheus’s quest to rescue his wife Eurydice from the depths of the underworld.

Hadestown took home 8 Tonys, the most of any show this year. The awards they received were: Featured Actor (Andre De Shields), Score (Anais Mitchell), Scenic Design (Rachel Hauck), Lighting Design (Bradley King), Sound Design (Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz), Orchestrations (Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose), Direction (Rachel Chavkin), and the lucrative Best Musical prize, the final and most important award of the night.

With Hadestown receiving such acclaim thus far, one might think that it was written by some experienced Broadway composer with several shows already under their belt. But that is far from the case.

“I never expected to make it [to Broadway],” says Mitchell. “I write regular old songs and make records and tour around sometimes.”

She says she was drawn to the idea of writing a long-form story through song, but wasn’t sure if her style would work well for a stage musical. In an interview at Google, Mitchell spoke of the origins of Hadestown:

“The show started out as a D.I.Y. community theater project in Vermont” says Mitchell. “Then, I made a studio record of some of the music, and toured with the music as a concert.”.

Following that, the show in its current form appeared Off-Broadway in New York in 2016, but moved to Ontario, Canada and London’s West End before making its way to Broadway this past March.

Mitchell’s unconventional background and style shine through brilliantly in her music. In other words, this show is straight-up weird. Seriously: the opening number and finale are both titled “Road to Hell”, there are multiple chants and epics as songs – you get the picture. Mitchell’s folk roots clearly influence many of the numbers, including the bluesy “Way Down Hadestown”, featuring the crooning voice of Hermes (Andre De Shields), who serves as the show’s narrator but simultaneously interacts with the other characters, or the uptempo jazz swinger “Livin’ it Up on Top”, drawing listeners in with Persephone (Amber Gray)’s unmistakable rasp. Hades (Patrick Page) sounds, well, like you might expect Hades to sound (if he could sing, of course): A bass so deep and chilling that enthralls the characters in the show and commands the audience’s attention immediately. As if that wasn’t enough, Hadestown goes even further in its peculiarity by having featured brass and string instrument players perform on the stage with the actors, as opposed to in a pit offstage.

For those who might be turned away by avant-garde qualities in music and enjoy more of a traditional contemporary style, songs such as Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada)’s love song “All I’ve Ever Known” and both characters’ versions of “Wait for Me” give the show a different edge and provide great contrast to the funky timbres of most of the songs. But I advise anyone who listens to Hadestown to give the non-traditional stuff a try – it grows on you, so it’s worth several listens.

There are plenty more beautiful intricacies and unique tastes crafted by Mitchell that I haven’t even begun to mention that make the show as great as it is, but don’t just take my word for it, take the theater community’s: Every single lead except Carney (that’s 4!) is nominated for a Tony for their individual performances. And even Carney handles the difficult vocal repertoire of the character Orpheus, often exhibiting a gorgeous soaring falsetto that makes him one of my personal favorites in terms of singing alone.

 

Hadestown is currently running at the Walter Kerr Theater in NYC. One of the few downsides of this show is the ridiculous prices – on the official website, tickets start at around $149-$179, depending on what day of the week and how long from now you want to go. I guess that does show that it’s already very popular, but it also means that those who really want to see it might not be able to anytime soon. And after their great showing at the Tonys, prices and demand for tickets will only increase. However, that doesn’t detract from the quality of the show itself.

If you want to listen to Hadestown, there’s a professional live cast recording of an Off-Broadway performance available on most music download/streaming sites. There is also an original Broadway cast recording that’s set to come out in parts on different dates over the summer (the first part was released June 7). I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.