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Anais Mitchell’s arresting folk-opera album “Hadestown” (2010) is now a stage musical, opening Mond...

‘Hadestown’ Theater Review: Anais Mitchell Drops Orpheus Into a Postapocalyptic World

By 18:06:00

Anais Mitchell’s arresting folk-opera album “Hadestown” (2010) is now a stage musical, opening Monday at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop. It’s possible not only to hear but see the Orpheus myth updated to a postapocalyptic Depression-era America.

Mitchell proves herself a master of jazz, blues, and ragtime, and Broadway’s current crop of songwriters should take note: Not every “Hadestown” song is orchestrated to be a “Defying Gravity” showstopper.

Kudos to Mitchell’s orchestrator, Michael Chorney. This duo presents an incredibly well-modulated score wherein sweet ballads aren’t automatically inflated into bombastic anthems. Instead, they’re allowed to simmer in the tenderness of Orpheus’s love for his wife, Eurydice, or the innate melancholia of two people being penniless. When Mitchell wants to deliver something big, and she often does, her music makes you feel like you’ve just stepped onto Bourbon Street.

What Mitchell’s music doesn’t have is much dramatic drive. Song after song gives us a glimpse into the characters’ emotional state. Rarely are we further along in the story when someone finishes singing.

The little plot there is moves through snippets of spoken dialogue, never on the lyrics, and after a while the trip into the crass money-driven underworld begins to feel endless. That’s an appropriate feeling for Orpheus and Eurydice; it’s not what theatergoers want to be feeling.

Mitchell the lyricist is no match for Mitchell the composer. Her wordplay is intelligent, but rarely is it inspired, and occasionally, there are false rhymes. The pop world probably doesn’t care. Some theater people do.

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