Review: Despite flaws, ‘Hadestown’ at Broadway SF shimmers

Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch) falls in love immediately with Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) in “Hadestown,” running through July 3 in San Francisco. (T. Charles Erickson photos)

One of the many strengths of “Hadestown” is its smoothness, a slick and clean narrative that moves in sweet strokes, showcasing principal performances with rich veracity. 

Anaïs Mitchell’s book, music and lyrics alongside Rachel Chavkin’s shimmering direction, which led to 14 Tony nominations and multiple wins including best musical of 2019, carries a resilient history. The piece tells a story that might lean too far on the simplistic side, but thin plot and musical theatre often make for harmonious bedfellows. Despite that, plenty of themes provide really prescient views about the dangers of evil and the magic of magnificence.

The touring cast of the production, running currently at the Orpheum Theatre as part of Broadway San Francisco’s 2021-2022 season, has plenty of phenomenal performances, many on par with the play’s original cast that featured some incredible Broadway luminaries. These are performances rich in voice and passionate in presence, telling the ancient tale of the love between Orpheus and Eurydice, challenged by the evil doomsayer Hades.

The purity of the love story works wonderfully. The sharply dressed Greek god Hermes (Levi Kreis) introduces the audience to Orpheus (Nicholas Barasch), an ideal young man who waits for no perfect moment to declare his love for Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green). There is no tact in his approach – a plea for patience turns immediately into a declaration that he wants to take her home. 

There is one great issue with this plan. Orpheus is a pauper – his hopes of finding fulfillment comes in the form of an attempt to craft a song that will bring back spring. This song will “fix what’s wrong, and bring the world back into tune.”

Another song from Orpheus brings the past to the forefront, the song of Hades (Kevyn Morrow) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable). What is clear is that Persephone is not fond of living in the underground factory of Hadestown. But the security offered in this world is too much for Eurydice to pass up, a young woman always teetering on the brink of extinction. It is up to Orpheus to rescue Eurydice from her newfound reality, armed with music and love as his tools of engagement.

While so many of the songs sit firmly in the slap category, the show’s potential comes down to how one may feel about an awful lot of falsetto voice. It is a lovely range, but in this production, it heads a bit too much into grating territory. There is a “Rent” quality to a young person digging deep to find the perfect song, a payoff that is underwhelming with a not-so-great song that features multiple variations of la, la, la. And a show with a plot that is quite simplistic runs a too long.

Still, despite the show’s flaws, it is stunningly gorgeous, with superstar set designer Rachel Hauck’s expanded dystopian vision fitting the stage stupendously. Hauck, who has had a fruitful, long-time collaboration with Berkeley Rep, is able to create some magnificent visuals paired beautifully with Bradley King’s scintillating light design (“Wait for Me” is the signature lighting moment for good reason).

The principal performances in this touring cast check many boxes. Kevyn Morrow’s devastatingly sharp turn as Hades is sold mightily as we absorb his seductive bass register, especially in “Hey, Little Songbird.” As Persephone, Marable is such a great steward for the needs of the audience, advocating for what true love should be. The swingy, jazz-infused Fates (Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, Shea Renne) waste no time planting their flag with their harmonious decadence in “Any Way the Wind Blows.” Both Barasch and Green are able to bring forth lots of youthful charm as they share their perilous journey. And while not much can compare to watching André De Shields enter the stage as the narrator Hermes (one of my great Broadway highlights), Levi Kreis is no slouch, with a sizzling charisma and killer smile in the role.

So many themes are brought to light in esoteric yet engaging ways. Loyalty, love, the power of art and the dangers of evil are just a few of the themes the show engages with. And even though the creators were very clear that references to a certain president who was big on walls was not intended as commentary, one would have to have lived under a rock since 2015 to not appreciate the moment’s very prescience. 

There is enough in “Hadestown” to allow for sustainability over the long haul. While there are certainly moments that don’t reach maximum thrill, a love story so pure built around Greek myths infused with sick trombone, the show features a pretty nice vibe to snag. 

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Broadway SF presents “Hadestown”
Book, Music and Lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
The word: Runs a bit long with a simplistic plot, but visually gorgeous with plenty of great tunes that make the show a worthy proposition.
Through July 3
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes with an intermission
Tickets range from $56 – $256
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.broadwaysf.com

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