The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is, of course, built on the power of music. But the ancient Greeks also knew a thing or two about the power of staging.
In “Hadestown,” songcraft and stagecraft meet and marry, with each element exquisitely reinforcing and enlarging the other.
The unified artistic vision of Vermont native Anaïs Mitchell (music, lyrics, and book) and director Rachel Chavkin, who developed the musical along with Mitchell, establishes a framework for “Hadestown” that is both sturdy and supple.
When you add in the topnotch cast of the touring production, the upshot is an entrancing evening at Citizens Bank Opera House.
Adding an element of surprise and a jolt of electricity Wednesday night was a performance bordering on the heroic by understudy Chibueze Ihuoma, who stepped in and stepped up to play Orpheus with remarkable assurance. Talk about responding to the pressure of the moment. If you didn’t know he was substituting for the originally scheduled Nicholas Barasch, you’d never have guessed it.
Ihuoma captured Orpheus’s ardor and over-eager persona while also delivering spine-tingling performances of songs like “Wait for Me,” where he soared to the top notes with crystalline clarity. One can only imagine how thrilling it must have been for the actor, normally a member of the chorus, to meet the challenge of a lead role as skillfully as he did. It was thrilling for the audience as well.
A quieter pleasure for ticket-holders stemmed from the simple experience of finally being in the Opera House itself, closed for a year and a half due to the pandemic. (Broadway In Boston’s last show at the Opera House was “Mean Girls” in January-February 2020.)
It felt like a homecoming, even a blessing of sorts, to once again take in the scene at one of Boston’s most venerable theaters: the opulent lobby, the patterned carpet, the glittering chandeliers, the vaulted ceiling, the gilt-crowned columns, the red curtain framing the proscenium, the hum of pre-show conversation.
The spell cast by “Hadestown” is a subtle one. In spirit if not in subject, the show is somewhat akin to a quieter musical like “Once.” It relies on a blend of folk, pop, New Orleans jazz, and work songs, with lyrics by Mitchell that lean toward allusiveness. The show is short on book scenes.
After Eurydice (Morgan Siobhan Green) is enticed to the underworld by Hades (Kevyn Morrow), Orpheus tries to rescue his beloved. Hades agrees to let Eurydice return to the land of the living, but only if Orpheus does not look back at her as they are leaving the underworld. (”Hadestown” advances an intriguing temporal/metaphysical conceit about the permanent connection lovers can have.)
There was palpable chemistry between Ihuoma and Green, who gave Eurydice a wised-up resiliency that fit the description of her as “a runaway from everywhere she’s ever been.” The actress brought a haunting resonance to “Any Way the Wind Blows” and poignancy to her duet with Ihuoma, “All I’ve Ever Known.”
“Hadestown” arrives in Boston trailing the aura of the Broadway production as well as the eight Tony Awards it won, including best musical. That can be a mixed blessing, and I frankly wondered how effective a touring production could be without Patrick Page, who played Hades on Broadway. Could I get Page’s subterranean rumble of a voice out of my head?
I could, because Morrow’s portrayal of Hades at the Opera House is nothing short of superb, with a presence that is both magisterial and magnetic from his first scene to his last. When he sings “Hey, Little Songbird,” in which Hades seduces Eurydice into the underworld, it’s enough to freeze the marrow.
While watching this “Hadestown,” I did find myself missing Broadway’s inimitable André De Shields as Hermes, guide and narrator of the proceedings. Levi Kreis is an engaging Hermes in the touring production, but he lacks De Shields’s silky elegance. (Then again, so does pretty much everyone else on the planet.)
As Hades’s wife, Persephone, Kimberly Marable is first-rate, endowing Persephone with a blend of sensuality, humor, and restless rebellion. Marable is a standout both in an ensemble number like “Livin’ It Up On Top” and in the Act Two opener where she occupies the spotlight, “Our Lady of the Underground.”
As they toil in Hades’s factory, the overall-clad members of the Workers Chorus execute the deliberately choppy rhythms of David Neumann’s choreography, creating a vibe that is part “Modern Times,” part Amazon warehouse. As the swirling, needling Fates, Belén Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne are an evocative trio. The seven-piece onstage band is aces (trombonist Audrey Ochoa was a crowd favorite).
The first words of Wednesday night’s performance were spoken by Kreis’s Hermes to the cast and musicians: “All right?” They replied: “All right.” Then he asked the same question of the audience, who replied in unison: “All right!” Yep, that about summed up how it felt to be at “Hadestown.”
Music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell. Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At Citizens Bank Opera House. Through Nov. 14. Tickets start at $44.50. www.BroadwayInBoston.com