Hadestown: The Myth. The Musical.

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Hadestown: The Myth. The Musical.

A red carnation, which is seen as a symbol of love in the musical.

A red carnation, which is seen as a symbol of love in the musical.

James DeMers

A red carnation, which is seen as a symbol of love in the musical.

James DeMers

James DeMers

A red carnation, which is seen as a symbol of love in the musical.

Sheridan Rowell

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“Once upon a time, there was a railroad line. Don’t ask where, brother. Don’t ask when. It was the road to Hell. It was hard times. It was a world of gods…and men.”

 

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice tells the tale of two lovers who were separated by tragedy. Orpheus, the son of Apollo, and Eurydice, a human woman (or wood nymph, depending on the myth) fall in love at first sight and get married almost immediately. On their wedding day, Eurydice dies by snake bite and Orpheus takes on a daring quest to get his love back from the Underworld.

 

The musical Hadestown focuses on this myth, but throws in an intriguing twist. The tale is cast into what seems to be the Depression Era, where Orpheus is a struggling artist and Eurydice is a woman with a longing for survival. The story is narrated by the messenger god Hermes, who has taken Orpheus in under his wing. In their world, the seasons no longer exist. It’s either blazing hot or freezing cold, and Orpheus is determined to write a song that will fix everything. When he meets Eurydice, he falls in love with her immediately, but he has to prove that he can help provide for her in order for her to fall in love with him.

 

After this, another myth is incorporated: the myth of Hades and Persephone. For part of the year, Persephone, the goddess of spring, gets to walk the earth. This results in summer and spring. For the other part, she must return to her husband Hades in the Underworld, causing winter and fall. However, in the musical, this is tampered with, as Hades keeps her longer than he’s supposed to and he gets her earlier than needed. Every time she goes back to Hadestown (the Underworld), Hades has done something to it to try to impress her, when all he has really done is made it worse. This time, he has recruited people from the living world to die and work on a wall around Hadestown. The back and forth fighting between the two gods and Persephone’s suffering is later linked to the changing weather.

 

Once Hades realizes that Persephone will never “appreciate” what he does for her, he sets out to find someone who does. This leads him to Eurydice, who is tired of Orpheus working on his song and not helping her survive. She willingly follows Hades into Hadestown, where she then signs her life away in order to have safety and work. It is only once she’s gone that Orpheus realizes what has happened. Hermes provides him with a secret way into Hadestown and he begins his quest to find Eurydice.

 

Orpheus finds Eurydice, but Hades refuses to let him leave with her. He sends his workers after him, but even after that, Orpheus refuses to give up. He sings for Persephone, who then attempts to convince her husband to let them go. Hades eventually meets back up with Orpheus and tells him to sing for him. Orpheus finally finishes his song and reminds the gods of their love. Orpheus is then allowed to bring Eurydice back home with him.

 

However, there is a catch. Orpheus has to lead them out and if he looks back at her before they’re both out of Hadestown, Eurydice will belong to Hades forever. He is overwhelmed with doubt and inevitably turns around to look at her. Thus ends the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.

 

Hadestown is currently on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre and has won eight Tony Awards. The musical is almost entirely sung through and melds together folk and jazz music, with some rock leanings. Whatever isn’t told through song is wonderfully shown through expressive choreography and the excellent use of lighting techniques. Although there is no video recording of the musical available, there are plenty of highlights online, as well as medleys from talk shows the cast has performed on. The Original Broadway Cast Recording is also available to listen to on almost all streaming services.

 

“It’s a love song. It’s a tale of a love from long ago. It’s a sad song. We keep singing even so. It’s an old song. It’s an old tale from way back when, and we’re gonna sing it again and again.”

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