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“To know how it ends and still begin to sing it again, as if it might turn out this time.” 

We tell the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice over and over again, in different languages, in different circumstances and with different characters. Hadestown is such a story, taunting the audience to suspend their disbelief for a couple of acts, investing in the story in hopes that things will turn out differently this time. The Hobby Center presented “Hadestown” to Houston on Tuesday, and the show was met with open arms. 

Photo by Kevin Berne

The story

“Hadestown ” is a masterfully crafted show that blends a contemporary feel with brass and strings that call to a different era in the South of the United States. It is heavily carried by Hermes as a narrator and three muses guiding the narrative whenever things threaten to deviate from the path. The songs speak to a certain type of experience. The main motifs are centered around movement. Wind, roads, trains, industry. Leaving or waiting. The result is harmonious, always moving forward but resulting in a cycle. 

There is not a dull moment in the play. It is straightforward and easy to follow. However, there are some pauses that seem too long, but not pregnant enough to justify it. The narrations, the toasts, all should have been a few seconds shorter. 

The show was truly dominated by Nathan Lee Graham’s performance as Hermes. His inflection, the texture he adds to each word, could keep an audience engaged even if he were reading from a telephone book. 

The other stand-out performance was by Hannah Whitley as Eurydice. She was cast perfectly, from physical frame to vocal prowess. Her notes are beautiful and unique. I daresay she did it better than anyone else that has come into the role before. 

The overall chemistry of the cast is excellent. At the time of my viewing, there were some kinks I’m sure will be ironed out as this new vastness gets used to each other. The muses are in sync with each other. Meanwhile, Chibueze Ihuoma felt like a good performer in his own bubble, not matching his co-stars’ energy as well. However, this can be overlooked when considering how difficult it must be to perform so much of a show in a falsetto, switching keys and playing the guitar all while being mindful of complex choreography. 

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The set

The cast covered well for each other in terms of small mistakes a regular theater-goer would never have noticed. The most concrete example that comes to mind was when Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras) dropped her bouquet of flowers, her intention being to leave it atop the piano. The flowers fell into the shadows, and the scene’s attention quickly turned to the opposite side of the stage, so the audience would have been very unlikely to realize anything was amiss. However, one of the muses (the trio already casually observing from stage left), strolled over and, with all the Nola speed, bent over to casually pick up the bouquet. She hung out by the piano for a little, then, slowly wandered back to her crew. It was so smooth, it looked scripted. 

The set echoes the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter. It is charming but truly shines due to the lighting. The techs take great advantage of the depth they can create by dramatically contrasting the types of light they projected onto different panels. The shadows became characters in their own right, projected tall and bold during more dramatic scenes. Naturally, the creative use of headlamps by the underworld’s miners and the overhead lamps swinging among the dancers can not be overlooked. It’s something that drew gasps from the audience, sure to stick in their heads as one of the highlights. The merchandisers seem to know this too, slapping overhead lamps on items being sold at the merch booth. Major props to Rachel Hauck and Bradly King. 

One thing to be wary of would be the wall of floodlights that comes out whenever the doors to the underworld open. They are perfectly leveled with the audience’s eyes. And strong. So blinding that when I did force my eyes open through their presence, it was only to see fellow audience members screwing their eyes closed against them. 

At the conclusion of the show, the players were met by full-on standing ovulation, loud and long. “Hadestown” has done an excellent job of making a classic Greek myth its own. If you’re in Houston and in the mood for a treat, go see Hadestoen at the Hobby Center until October 9.

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