Hadestown—Broadway (10/10/21)

Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See includes the best representation of love that I have ever read in a novel. The two main characters—a 16-year-old blind French girl and an 18-year-old German soldier—meet In Saint-Malo, France, after traversing each other’s paths for the entirety of World War 2. Marie-Laure and Werner are together for only a few hours after being trapped for days in near-death experiences. With each rereading, I always hope the conclusion of the scene will be different—the words in the book will change, and my memory of the actual ending will somehow be wrong. That is how much Doerr has made me care about these fictional characters and their bond.

Published by AmFrederick on DeviantArt.

I experienced this same emotion in the Walter Kerr Theater while watching Hadestown. One decision I have made as a theater-goer is to learn as little as possible about a play before seeing it. I do not listen to the albums or watch clips online or read summaries of the plot because nothing can recreate the lasting impact of something unexpected on the stage. In the case of Hadestown, the moment I will always remember is the dramatic shift from a beautiful song to complete silence.

Beginning with what I did know before seeing Hadestown, the musical is inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. From that starting point, I was unsure what to expect from creator Anaïs Mitchell (who wrote the music, lyrics, and book). In Ovid’s translated words, Orpheus can write songs powerful enough to open the walls of Hades and bring tears to a God’s eyes, but could Mitchell’s music live up to that standard? The music in Hadestown is, in fact, masterful—a sung-through opera combining elements of rock, jazz, and country. From the opening song “Road to Hell”, a jazz-style dance number performed by André De Shields as Hermes, I was convinced that Hadestown was going to be extraordinary.

Eva Noblezada (Eurydice), Andre De Shields (Hermes) & Reeve Carney (Orpheus)

Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) sings most of her songs in a country/folk style, which is fitting for a character who is a runaway looking to stay on the move. Orpheus (Reeve Carney) falls deeply in love with Eurydice at first sight. He often sings in a rock falsetto with his power ballads conveying his overwhelming desires to create beauty and light in a darkened world. He wins over Eurydice with the aptly titled “Epic I” only to lose her with “Epic II” before his last desperate attempt to win her back with “Epic III.”

Reeve Carney (Orpheus) & Eva Noblezada (Eurydice)

Just as intriguing as the love story between Orpheus and Eurydice is the much more damaged tale that Mitchell creates for Persephone (played by Afra Hines at the performance I saw) and Hades (Tom Hewitt). While Persephone once loved Hades, the intensity of his attraction for her has overwhelmed her into a manic depression exhibited in blues songs like “Livin’ it Up on Top.” Hades, in turn, deals with his wife’s absence by using the dead souls in his domain to build a massive, lifeless industrial complex in the underworld.

Amber Gray (Persephone) and the cast in the underworld

I will not discuss every aspect of Hadestown beyond hinting that the setting and the choreography are grand achievements. However, the greatest compliment I can pay to Hadestown is to admit that throughout much of the second act, I was increasingly overwhelmed with a sense of dread because, like most of the audience, I know how the myth ends. I sat entranced as Mitchell first convinced me to believe in the immense love shared by Orpheus and Eurydice. Then she convinced me to believe that Orpheus’s song conveyed so much emotion that Hades relents on keeping Eurydice’s soul. I even remember a brief moment of denial, thinking to myself, “Maybe this play is going to cheat. Maybe it will just skip the part where Orpheus fails.” Without giving away the ending, Mitchell’s script does not cheat, and the result is a moment of complete silence practically the equivalent of sitting alone in an dark, empty auditorium.

Rest assured, though, just as every other aspect of Hadestown works, so does the conclusion. Yet, when I get a chance to see Hadestown again, I am sure I am going to still hold out hope that maybe it will end differently—not just for Orpheus and Eurydice, but for all of the very limited number of characters so brilliantly created that their love transcends fiction.

Hadestown—Broadway (10/10/21)

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)

In this post I am going to declare the winners for the remaining four first-round pairings. My previous post explains the methodology I used to choose these 16 musicals as candidates for the best Tony-nominated musical of the 2010-2019 decade. If you would like to hear me explain my choices for each pairing, check out this video.

Continue reading “Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)”
Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)

A Tribute to the Less-than-Enjoyable Theater Experience

The way I remember it, I am eight years old and playing Nintendo one Saturday morning when my father walks down the basement stairs to tell me about the play he and my mother saw the previous evening. He refers to the title as Say Yes, Pablo and notes that the play was supposed to be about Pablo Picasso but it was not really about anything, and in the place of normal dialogue there was a lot of chanting. He also said that 25 minutes into the show the first audience members exited out the back door, and the steady flow of unhappy patrons kept that back door open until the end.

Say Yes, Pablo holds a special meaing in our family. When we see a play that we really dislike, we say, “Well, at least it was better than Say Yes, Pablo.”

Continue reading “A Tribute to the Less-than-Enjoyable Theater Experience”

A Tribute to the Less-than-Enjoyable Theater Experience

Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals

#1. All Quiet on the Western Front (Red Tape)

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The gender-blind cast of All Quiet on the Western Front

The script by Matt Foss is a tribute to Erich Maria Remargue’s novel—a no-holds-barred criticism of war as seen through the eyes of WW1 soldiers, who have accepted that their survival means nothing to the unseen figures calling the shots. Elena Victoria Feliz as Paul moves through the most inventive staging of the year—war is played out on top of old pianos, and colored powders communicate the impact of bombs and bullets.

Continue reading “Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals”

Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals

NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

Greater Clements

Haley Sakamoto (Kel) and Edmund Donovan (Joe)

Samuel Hunter sits among my favorite playwrights based on the strength of The Whale and Pocatello. One can make a sure bet that a Hunter play will build to a mesmerizing, semi-tragic climax as characters push themselves beyond their own limitations.

Continue reading “NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19”

NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

The Niceties—Writer’s Theater (11/27/19 & 12/1/19)

The Niceties is a dramatic tennis match of ideas with two characters scoring points in their increasingly intense back-and-forth exchanges.

Janine (Mary Beth Fisher)—a respected history professor teaching an upper-level course on revolutions—begins by offering criticisms to Zoe (Ayanna Bria Bakari) regarding her 20-page thesis essay.  The ensuing discussion is fraught with conflicts framed by both race and the generation gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  Before the play’s start, a Writer’s Theater Associate encouraged the audience to consider both points of view—particularly when we felt a strong allegiance to one character’s perspective.  In that spirit, I am going to present my reactions to The Niceties by referencing the more convincing points scores by both Janine and Zoe.

Ayanna Bria Bakari & Mary Beth Fisher

Continue reading “The Niceties—Writer’s Theater (11/27/19 & 12/1/19)”

The Niceties—Writer’s Theater (11/27/19 & 12/1/19)

The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)

With The Recommendation, Windy City Playhouse solidifies itself as a theater company at the forefront of immersive theater.

Julian Hester and Michael Aaron Pogue

I admit that I was more dismissive than intrigued in early 2018 when the Playhouse started promoting Southern Gothic.  The experience promised to take theatergoers into the heart of a Southern dinner party in the 1960’s.  Immersive theater?  I kept picturing moments from Cats when actors walk into the aisles and start rubbing their heads against patrons’ bodies.*

Continue reading “The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)”
The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—Lookingglass (6/12/19) & Bloomsday—Remy Bumppo (6/20/19)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bloomsday are two literary adaptions which might seem diametrically opposed in subject matter, yet their prominent similarity is they both prove the importance of capturing the respective tones of their source material.

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Walter Briggs (Percy Shelley and Dr. Frankenstein), Cordelia Dewdney (Mary Shelley and Elizabeth) & Debo Balogun (Dr. John Polidori)

Frankenstein, produced at Lookingglass with the company’s usual emphasis on staging, plays with the conceit that the non-fiction behind the novel could induce more chills than the ubiquitous story of a mad scientist and the life he creates. The origins of Mary Shelley’s novel are well known, and the play begins in a cramped but lush sitting room with five affluent pre-Victorians killing boredom with a contest to see who could tell the best ghost story.  Using the same theatrical technique as the musical Man of La Mancha, Mary Shelley (Cordelia Dewdney) and her four listeners begin to perform her tale. Bits of the “actors ” egos and insecurities add depth to their play within the play.

Continue reading “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—Lookingglass (6/12/19) & Bloomsday—Remy Bumppo (6/20/19)”
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—Lookingglass (6/12/19) & Bloomsday—Remy Bumppo (6/20/19)

Hamlet—Chicago Shakespeare (6/5/19)

Back in the winter of 2014, I was entranced by Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Pericles. The play follows a cast of characters (Pericles, Prince of Tyre, among them) as they voyage around the Greek islands. There are death sentences, murder plots, shipwrecks, pirates, mistaken identities. David H. Bell’s production played out like a modern adventure film set within the soft, aquatic colors of ancient Greece.

I bring up Pericles mostly to explore a question: how do we choose which of Shakespeare’s plays are “cannon” and which are “the lesser works”? The website shakespearences.com has made a study of logging the regularity with which Shakespeare’s works are produced.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are ranked as the top three—Pericles is right in the middle at 24, underneath the prominent comedies and tragedies and above most of the histories.

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Maurice Jones

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Hamlet—Chicago Shakespeare (6/5/19)

Twilight Bowl—Goodman (2/10/19 & 3/2/19)

We tend to remember our teenage years as a period of profound uncertainty—a time when we experiment with various forms of rebellion on our path to figuring out who we want to become for the remaining 60 or so years of our lives. Rebecca Gilman’s latest work, however, makes a convincing argument that the years following adolescence—roughly ages 18 to 23—are our most insecure, scariest years. In fact, both times I left the play, I was convinced that the reason we do not have a word to label these years of our lives is because so many of us have simply blocked them from our memories.

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Anne E. Thompson (Sharlene), Heather Chrisler (Jaycee), Hayley Burgress (Clarice) & Becca Savoy (Sam).

Continue reading “Twilight Bowl—Goodman (2/10/19 & 3/2/19)”

Twilight Bowl—Goodman (2/10/19 & 3/2/19)