Friday 16 November 2018 2:44 pm

Hadestown at the National Theatre review: Great tunes help mask a modern musical that doesn’t quite click


I'm the editor of City A.M. The Magazine, and editor of the daily newspaper's Life&Style section. We cover food, going out, art, technology and travel. I like to write about restaurants, theatre and video games.

I'm the editor of City A.M. The Magazine, and editor of the daily newspaper's Life&Style section. We cover food, going out, art, technology and travel. I like to write about restaurants, theatre and video games.

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Hadestown is the latest breakout musical to transfer from Broadway to London, with a run at the National Theatre almost certain to be followed by a sold-out stint on the West End.

It’s a modern, stylised retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the original star-crossed lovers who even death couldn’t separate. After meeting in a seedy New Orleans bar, the skint couple start a whirlwind romance, inspiring Orpheus to finish writing The Greatest Song in the World (different to the Jack Black one), which he’s had on the backburner for some time.

Alas, while he’s busy scribbling, Eurydice, cold and starving, accepts a contract with Hades, the owner of an underground mining community – and it’s not the kind of contract you can break…

It’s a neat concept, and it features some classic songs in the making, from the funky numbers by James Brown-esque Hermes (André De Shields) to the brilliant Hey Little Songbird by Hades (Patrick Page, whose voice is so gravelly it’s like listening to an argument between Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits).

Eva Noblezada is brilliant as the naive young Eurydice, her slight frame belying a powerful voice, while Amber Grey puts in a great comic shift as Persephone, an old soak with a heart of gold.

The only weak link is singer-songwriter Reeve Carney’s Orpheus, who feels too traditionally “musical theatre” for a production that strives to be different. In a competition between him and the devil, I’d be rooting for the guy with horns.

That’s hardly a deal-breaker, however. Memorable set pieces complement the tunes, not least the famous journey back from hell, which uses the Olivier stage to spectacular effect, the floor rising and descending and rotating in concentric circles.

It’s topped off with a pertinent, overtly political message about division and greed being Bad Things, culminating in the catchy ballad Why We Build the Wall (written pre-Trump but now imbued with extra meaning).

The ingredients for a barnstorming musical are all present and correct and yet… Somehow it doesn’t quite click, falling short of the dizzy heights of a Hamilton or a Little Shop of Horrors. I left happy, but not elated. Die-hard musical fans will no doubt have a blast, but it isn’t quite the crossover hit I’d been expecting following all the hype.

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