By Oline H. Cogdill
Can a musical that is on the surface highly entertaining, clicks all the buttons with strong acting, singing and dancing, with an innovative set enhanced by solid lighting, yet still lacks that extra punch that is so vital in live theater?
Yes. Such is the case with the version of Hadestown, playing through Jan. 21 at the Broward Center for Performing Arts as part of the Broadway Across America.
This production of Hadestown is, at its center, rather soulless—an odd thing to say about a musical that is all about finding your soulmate and selling your soul to the devil. The production lacks that intangible element that reaches deep into, well, for lack of a better word, the soul, despite the hard-working entertainers.
Still, there is much to praise about Hadestown, starting with Will Mann’s solid performance as Greek god Hermes, the narrator and guide to this surreal highly theatrical spin on the Greek myth of Orpheus. Stylish in his bright blue suit with feathers at the cuff, Mann’s booming, honeyed voice and lithe moves sets the tone of this sung-through musical with the rousing “Road to Hell.”
Orpheus (J. Antonio Rodriguez), Hermes’ ward, is introduced to Eurydice (Amaya Braganza) and is instantly smitten, asking her to marry him. She is a bit leery as they both are poor with little chance for advancement as the area is plagued by harsh weather and famine, as described by the intriguing Fates, a literal Greek chorus (effectively played by Marla Louissaint, Lizzie Markson, and Hannah Schreer.) You do not want to get on the bad side of these formidable Fates.
Orpheus tells her that he is writing a song that will make spring come again, ending their struggle. That’s all well and good, and she also begins to fall in love with him. But when she needs him the most, Orpheus is isolated, writing furiously.
Watching the love story play out are the devil in disguise, King Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), and his wife Persephone (Lana Gordon), who sings the praises of summertime. Hades arrives early to bring Persephone back to Hadestown, Hades’ underground factory. Eurydice is looking for food and firewood with no help from Orpheus, who is still working on that darned song. Even though she hears about the constant work in Hadestown, Eurydice also listens to the Fates praise Hadestown and the promise of protection.
Eurydice believes she has no other choice but to accept Hades’ invitation to come to Hadestown. The naive Eurydice doesn’t really understand what she is getting into, but signs a contract, becoming another of Hades’ trapped workers.
Finally looking up from his songwriting, Orpheus discovers Eurydice is gone, and decides to rescue her from the underworld Hadestown, no matter the danger.
As Persephone, Lana Gordon is in constant motion, showcasing her belting chops, especially in her solo number “Our Lady of the Underground.”
As a couple, Orpheus and Eurydice are fine, but each lets loose in their solos. Braganza plows the emotion in “Flowers” and Rodriguez with “Epic I, “Epic II” and “Epic III.”
For several scenes, Hades just observes the crowd, planning his next move. But give the devil his due. When Quinn sings, his beautiful baritone is show-stopping, especially “Why We Build the Wall,” a truly political song.
The clever scenic design by Rachel Hauck evokes a post-apocalyptic New Orleans enhanced by the innovative lighting designed by Bradley King.
The jazz-infused score with touches of rock, folk and Caribbean music gets a boost from the terrific on-stage band.
Hadestown was the most honored show of the 2018-2019 Broadway season, winning eight 2019 Tony Awards including best musical. Hadestown also was honored with four Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical, and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical.
Despite all this praise, this production of Hadestown falls short of reaching those moments that reach deep. Is it fair to compare a Broadway Across America show with productions by a professional regional theater? Sometimes. Slow Burn Theatre Company has found that sweet spot of producing entertaining musicals that connect fully with audiences. Slow Burn’s recent production of Into the Woods is an example. No doubt its Sister Act, Feb. 3 to 18, will continue that streak.
Hadestown will run through Jan. 21 in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series. Running time 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets visit www.browardcenter.org, ticketmaster.com; by phone 954-462-0222.