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Review: Hadestown (Lyric Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

How to get to the West End? If you’re Hadestown, you have to take the long way round. After an initial run at London’s National Theatre in 2018, Hadestown moved to Broadway where it has enjoyed a run since 2019 (pesky pandemic interruption aside). For everyone on this side of the Atlantic, the wait for it to come back here has been Hell, but no more as it is now officially open in the West End. The question is was it worth the wait?



With the first iteration of the musical premiering in 2006, Hadestown has been in development for close to 20 years with even elements of this production differing slightly from the long-running Broadway sensation. Telling the story of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown sees the pair fall in love only for Eurydice to end up in the underworld, resulting in Orpheus’ attempting to rescue her.

 

Written by Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown does a flawless job of taking the core elements of the ancient myth and contemporising it somewhat, giving it a timeless feel that works in its favour. With modern language, the effortlessly romantic use of language packs an emotional punch, hammering in the gravitas of the story and what people might do for love. To be honest, structurally the whole thing wasn’t as cohesive as I might have expected with certain scenes failing to land with the same impact as the astonishing one we had witnessed previously, but that speaks more of the strengths of the show’s best moments.



Mitchell is also responsible for all of the music and lyrics, blending various musical styles including folk and jazz to create a sensational score. From the opening number ‘Road to Hell’ to Eurydice and Orpheus’s stunning duet ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, the infectiously catchy ‘Way Down Hadestown’ and ‘When The Chips Are Down’ and the undoubted standout number ‘Wait For Me’, there is no shortage of standout numbers here. The choice to have these peppered with quieter, more unassuming numbers is an inspired choice and the repeated use of music and lyrics throughout the show is a testament to Mitchell’s intelligence as a songwriter.

 

The sung-through nature of the show means that music takes centre stage in Hadestown, and fittingly enough, so does the band. Not hidden away, the fantastic band’s presence on stage is refreshing and truly appropriate for the nature of the show, with Liam Robinson’s musical supervision giving rise to a 7-piece band who create the most beautiful of sounds on that stage, and deservedly get their own shout-outs at the beginning of act 2, and rightly so. Special mention has to go to Daniel Higham on the trombone, dominating in certain numbers.



Rachel Chavkin’s direction takes Mitchell’s writing and amplifies it to other-worldly effect, Though the Lyric theatre may not have been the most obvious choice for the show, Chavkin weaves complex, consistent, and inventive choices into her direction, making full use of the fantastic (and now pretty iconic)set design, including that unmistakeable revolve and lift.  That fantastic set provides one of the greatest elements to Hadestown, with Rachel Hauck’s design ironically making the action come alive… even in the underworld.

 

Bradley King’s lighting design was another key factor to the aesthetic, searing and blinding at parted but incredibly effective throughout. It was the combination of the direction and all visual production elements that resulted in Act One’s ‘Wait For Me’ to be a slice of theatre perfection, with its flawless execution and rousing feeling creating one of the all-time great musical theatre moments. David Neumann’s choreography truly soared in that sequence and at numerous other times throughout the show, with intricate precision creating a gorgeous use of movement.



Perhaps the strongest element of the West End production of Hadestown is its exceptional cast. Dónal Finn is astounding as Orpheus with a sweet authenticity that makes him and the character instantly loveable. Despite its Hellish setting, Finn displays a heavenly singing voice which soars every time he does his repeated refrain throughout. After wowing audiences with her award-winning turn in Sunset Boulevard, Grace Hodgett-Young once again proves what an absolute star she is with a note-perfect turn as Eurydice. With great sensitivity, she pours her heart into every note with a sublimely understated rendition of ‘Flowers’ her highlight of the night. Don’t wait too long to see her though as she’ll be back in Sunset on Broadway later this year.

 

Zachary James stuns in his turn as Hades, displaying an impressive blend of charm with a sinister nature and all the while captivating at every turn. Blowing us away with his vocal prowess, he proves a formidable force on stage, lighting it up whenever he appears with his powerful act one closer ‘Why We Build The Wall’ a highlight of the night.. Gloria Onitiri shines in her role as Persephone, showing her versatility through light-hearted moments where the character’s carefree nature plays out to a more serious tone later on. At every turn, Gloria doesn’t put a foot wrong and delivers a performance that is fit for the Gods.



Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne, and Allie Daniel are completely fabulous as the fates, bringing a sense of ferociousness and comic timing to the proceedings when things may get a bit too close to the dark side (This is Hell, after all). The inspired casting of Melanie La Barrie as Hermes is every bit as phenomenal as you would hope. One of the greatest talents in the West End, Melanie has the audience in the palm of her hands from the moment she first struts on the stage. From then on, this is her show and we are all pawns in her game… and glad of it. In a role she was very clearly born to play, Melanie gives the performance of her career with her unrivaled stage presence, She saves the best for last, however, with incredible vocal skills on ‘Road To Hell (Reprise)’.

 

Since it was last in London, Hadestown has blown up to become a much-loved megahit on Broadway. Perhaps that hype gave me an unrealistic expectation of the show which it could never live up to. Before it started, I expected this would be a very obvious 5-star review for me. While I didn’t quite think it reached that level for me, I still loved every minute of it, particularly the ridiculously talented cast assembled for this production. It has been a long time coming but Hadestown was most certainly worth the wait. It really is one Hell of a show.



Hadestown is now playing at the Lyric Theatre. Tickets available here

 

Photos by Marc Brenner

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