Theater review: ‘Hadestown’ story diffuse, but production at Proctors in Schenectady mightily entertaining

Actor on stage, singing and gesturing, arms out

Chibueze Ihuoma as Orpheus in a scene from the touring production of "Hadestown," now at Proctors. (T. Charles Erickson)

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SCHENECTADY – Folk singer Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown” began as a modest stage musical in 2007; morphed into a concept album in 2010, with orchestrations by Michael Chorney; and, with the help of director Rachel Chavkin, exploded into a Tony-winning musical in 2019.

The album lasts just under one hour; the Broadway musical runs over two hours.

My enthusiasm for the material lasted somewhere in between at Tuesday night’s opening, so by the time the performance was over, I was ready. Don’t get me wrong: the production is fabulous, with glorious singing, superb on-stage accompaniment (under Eric Kang), eye-popping choreography  (David Neumann), all on a multi-tiered and moving set by Rachel Hauck.

Bradley King’s lighting? Charged! Costumes? Vivid, apt.

In other words, you will be mightily entertained, your senses exhausted.

The story? Ah, that’s part of the problem. In a seamless, through-composed score, the Greek myth of lovers Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) and Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) is spun out. Our guide to its telling is the messenger god, Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham), who addresses the audience and characters and shapes our understanding.

Married couple Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), a sexist, rapist, and capitalist pig; and Persephone (Brit West), who spends half the year above ground and half in hell, also have their issues. The suffering workers (deftly portrayed by a five-member ensemble) and the three Fates are also to be reckoned with.

But the story feels diffuse, the result of which is a spectacle that didn’t much touch me.

There are many pleasures worth pointing out, however, and the audience (perhaps 3/4 full, with masks optional) noted them, applauding virtually every number and giving the performers a standing O at the end.

Mitchell’s score is full of tuneful turns, appealing harmonies, and a knowing use of folk, blues, rock, and gospel traditions, among others.

Ihuoma, with his unerring falsetto delivered in an otherworldly fashion, anchors the show from his opening “Come Home with Me.” It’s who we know Orpheus to be, the songwriter/singer enchanting anyone who hears him. And Ihuoma does.

Kudos to trombonist Emily Fredrickson who opens Act II with a drunken riff accompanying the splendid vocal stylings of West (“Our Lady of the Underground”).

Quinn’s bass is alternately sensuous and snarling, with “Hey, Little Songbird” a creepy synthesis of both.

The harmonies of the Fates (Dominique Kempf, Belen Moyano, Nyla Watson) are spot-on, and their sinuous movements during Orpheus’s departure from the Underworld add to the eeriness of the scene.

Graham seizes our attention from the first moment; whether it’s with a lyric, a note, or a gesture, he’s in charge throughout. This traveler between two worlds always suggests he knows more than he lets on.

If Whitley has her greatest moment in “Flowers” in Act II, with stunning accompaniment by the violin (Clare Armenante) and cello (Kely Pinheiro), she is superb in every instance. Impoverished, suspicious, hopeful, and sweet: Eurydice comes to moving life through Whitley’s raw vocals.

Perhaps there’s a message to take away from this story, which is full of dualities — love/hate, the haves/have nots, spring/winter, heaven/hell — and it is probably the duality Hermes mentions: “Orpheus can make you see how the world could be in spite of how it is.”

An idea worth grappling with.


WHERE: Proctors Theatre, 432 State St.
WHEN: through Mar. 5
HOW MUCH: $90.50-$25.50
MORE INFO: 518.346.6204, or

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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