Hadestown: Bringin’ That Sweet Heat

At the Winspear, great singers and a red-hot band energizes this re-do of an ancient myth.

Smack on top of our bone-chilling January freeze, Dallas Summer Musicals brings the Tony-winning Hadestown to the Winspear Opera House. From the opening “Road to Hell” to the closing reprise, Anais Mitchell’s rapturous, haunting folk opera generates the kind of aw-right! Heat rising from a well-grooved cast and a red-hot band.

The production has flash and precision with Rachel Chavkin’s direction and features David Neumann’s ominous and sexy choreography. Costume designer Michael Krass conjures an era both classic and contemporary with his beautiful, clingy female outfits. We want everybody just to keep on rocking and singing and not look back. But, of course, that’s not gonna happen.

Mitchell’s spectacular oratorio delivers! Based on a famous Greek myth about love and doubt— The greatest musician ever, Orpheus marries Eurydice, who dies from a snake bite on their wedding day. He travels to the Underworld, where Hades, the god of dead folk, offers him a deal. He can leave with his bride, but only if he walks in front and never looks back to see if she’s there. Our King of the Underworld only offers that fateful test in Mitchell’s telling. Hades’ alluring bride Persephone (vibrant mezzo Kimberly Marable, drawing audience shout-outs), goddess of the seasons who leaves for the upper world in spring and summer, pleads the lovers’ case and seduces her husband into giving them a chance.

Here, Orpheus (a high-hearted Nicholas Barasch, delivering “Come Home with Me” in a falsetto voice) is a young songwriter working in a 30’s New Orleans-style nightclub with an eight-member orchestra. Rachel Hauck’s set design, a revolving stage heavy with smoke, made Bradley King’s stunning light design even moodier. The singer’s beloved Eurydice (a spirited, full-throated Morgan Siobhan Green) is a skeptical runaway in a tough town. A train whistle and blast of headlights signal we’ve arrived in Hades, a kind of burned-out rust-belt city where sweating bodies toil, heads down. “That’s how dead people look,” or so we are told.

Our narrator is Hermes, played by svelte, silver-suited Levi Kreis, a charismatic hipster stealing scenes with a knowing smile and a dancer’s grace. “We’re gonna sing it again and again,” he says at the end of the show when we see that this sad song-story somehow brings hope for a different ending every time it’s told.

What’s fascinating about this production, with its dark, gloomy sets and shimmering songs about poverty and threats to the human community, is that these ancient mythic characters, with their wayward passions and swollen egos, leave us feeling jazzed up and happy. That’s the power of music. Orpheus could make stones sing. And everybody here can sing.

The score itself is gorgeously melodic, familiar in its bluesy rhythms, and yet surprising over and over. Marable, an earthy goddess in a green dress, reluctantly returns to Hades but loves the memory of “Livin’ It Up on Top.” She belts it and brings the heat of summer to her sassy-meets-brassy duo with trombonist Audrey Ochoa in “Our Lady of the Underground.”

Kevyn Morrow’s tall, dark, and cruelly magnetic Hades is compelling. Whether his ponderous bass voice is luring a newcomer to hell in “Hey, Little Songbird” or bellowing commands to the toiling masses of his kingdom in “Why We Build a Wall,” he’s the glowering boss. Only Persephone can bring the momentary warmth of remembered youth to his cold smile.

The Fates, a trio comprised of Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio, and Shea Renne, are amazing augurs—all over the place and always all together vocally. They make bad news sound good in “When the Chips Are Down,” reminding us that “you can have principles when you got a belly full.” Hunger is always on the plate in hell. They torment Orpheus as he winds his way out of the Underworld, determined to trust that his love is right there behind him, until “Doubt Comes In,” a fevered song we all recognize. I thought of Blake’s visionary line: “If the sun and moon should ever doubt/They’d immediately go out.”

Dump that doubt. Fight this freeze with the heat of Hadestown.

Where:   Winspear Opera House | 2403 Flora St., Dallas

When:  Now through Sunday, January 30

Web:  www.dallassummermusicals.org

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