Mind-blowing and heart-stopping ‘Hadestown’ plays the National

The award-winning musical features a thick amalgam of rock, blues, gospel, and jazz with ethereal and breathtakingly haunting harmonies.

If you are looking for a means to escape the real world and be immersed mind, body, and soul into a smolderingly sexy and emotionally supple theater journey, you are in luck. The Grammy- and Tony-winning musical Hadestown is at The National Theatre for a two-week stop. Anaïs Mitchell created the book, lyrics, and music in 2006, and Rachel Chavkin directed and further developed the material with Mitchell in 2012.

The story blends the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice with Hades and Persephone and has a stunning soundtrack with a thick amalgam of rock, blues, gospel, and jazz with ethereal and breathtakingly haunting harmonies.

Hannah Whitley (Eurydice) and J. Antonio Rodriguez (Orpheus) and company in ‘Hadestown’ North American tour 2022. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The set, designed by Rachel Hauck, is nothing short of stunning, with wood flooring and simple tables and chairs evoking the feel of a jazz club. Upstage a spiral staircase leads to a quaint balcony and beneath it are massive doors that open vertically like a giant metal mouth, swallowing anything that steps into it down into the depths of hell.

It comes as no surprise that Hauck’s Scenic Design won one of the show’s eight 2019 Tony Awards, along with Costume Design (Michael Krass), Lighting Design (Bradley King), Sound Design (Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz), and Direction (Rachel Chavkin). The result is a visually captivating production with rich lighting effects and remarkable audio — and an indescribably mind-blowing experience.

I grew up with an abundance of love for all things musical theater and mythology, so Hadestown, even as a hypothetical idea, had my attention from the get-go. But the moment the music began with back-bending funk from trombone player Emily Fredrickson, my whole body was attuned.

Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods, is played by Nathan Lee Graham and serves as guide and narrator of the adventure. Graham’s presence alone is enough to garner applause, and he exudes a jazz swagger opening the show with “Road to Hell.”

Nathan Lee Graham (Hermes) and company in ‘Hadestown’ North American tour 2022. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Orpheus is played by J. Antonio Rodriguez, a poor musician with a sweet soul and a song in his heart who immediately, charmingly, and adorably awkwardly falls for Eurydice (Hannah Whitley). Rodriguez conveys the innocence and purity of his character and with an angelic falsetto charms Whitley’s Eurydice with “Come Home with Me.”

Hades, played by Matthew Patrick Quinn, is the god of the underworld with a booming voice and fading romance with Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras), who misses her days in the sun and tires of Hades’ realm. Quinn plays the devilish character with a rock star vibe and a deliciously smooth and deep bass. Oliveras’ Persephone is sultry and passionate, and the couple clash their egos and desires wonderfully.

Dominique Kempf, Belen Moyano, and Nyla Watson are The Fates with mesmerizing harmony and ethereal, flowing movement. Their vocals give continuous chills, especially when they sing, whatcha gonna do “When the Chips Are Down.”

The Workers Chorus consists of Jordan Bollwerk, Shavey Brown, Sean Watkinson (in for Jamal Lee Harris), Courtney Lauster, and Racquel Williams. The quintet does a phenomenal job and Graham’s Hermes sums it up perfectly when he introduces them at the top of the show as “the hardest working chorus in the gods’ almighty world!”

Hadestown is a show with countless, heart-stopping moments. The growing connection and devotion that blossoms between Rodriguez’s Orpheus and Whitley’s Eurydice in “Wedding Song” is sweet and genuine.

The deep thumping baseline and visceral feel of “Chant” weaves the gorgeous light and inspiration of Orpheus’ song with the darkness and despair of the underworld into a devastatingly beautiful fugue.

The musical is as myths are, an exquisite and tragic poem that wraps you in every emotion, titillating senses and taking the audience on a journey of heart, hope, and heartache.

I saw the performance with my bestie, and after virtually every number we would simultaneously breathe out with a heavy sigh and some variation of “Oh my god,” expressing the delirious joy and incredulous awe of having witnessed something so utterly perfect.

The National Theatre’s production of the touring Hadestown retains every bit of its Broadway magic and will swallow you wholly into the story for two and a half hours of raw talent, musical mastery, and flat-out theatrical brilliance.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Hadestown plays through June 18, 2023, at the National Theatre located at 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($60–$145) are available online or by calling the box office at (202) 628-6161, Monday through Friday 12 pm to 6 pm.

Recommended for ages 8+. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theater.

Cast and creative credits for the North American tour of Hadestown can be found here.

COVID Safety: Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticket holders. For full COVID protocol, go here.

Music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell
Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin


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