New York City has had a theater presence as early as the mid 1700’s, but it was not until the 1800’s that many theaters moved uptown to ‘Broadway’.
It is widely acknowledged that the first Broadway musical was the five-and-a-half hour-long The Black Crook, which played 474 performances in 1866. Ever since then, Broadway has held a special place in every New Yorker’s heart, including mine. I am lucky enough to have seen a variety of Broadway shows with my family throughout my childhood and teenage years, including The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Wicked, Hamilton, Mean Girls, and more. However, excursions to Broadway were put on hold for a while due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I had to satisfy my musical-loving heart by listening to Broadway soundtracks on Spotify.
One musical that I became increasingly interested in and just had to see was Hadestown. As a classics major and a second-generation Greek-American, Hadestown seemed to be the perfect blend of classic Greek mythology and modern funky music. Hadestown is an interpretation of not one, but two Greek myths: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone. It seems fitting to give a brief description of each of these famous myths to set the scene.
Orpheus and Eurydice are figures who arguably endure an even more tragic fate than mainstream Shakespearean ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Orpheus and Eurydice were a happily married couple; however, Eurydice was fated by the gods to live a short life. While running along a river bank, a serpent attacked and bit the young woman, killing her with its poison shortly thereafter. Orpheus, consumed by grief, turned to the lyre and his gift of music, bestowed to him by his father, Apollo, and mourned every day for his beloved. Unable to bear his pain, however, he decided to journey to the Underworld to strike a deal with the god of the dead. Using his formidable musical skills, Orpheus was able to convince him to allow Eurydice back to the human world, but under one condition, demanded by Persephone: he was not to look back at her, or else all of his efforts to get her back would be fruitless. Their journey back home went well up until they were nearly at their destination. A madness then overtook Orpheus, and, distrustful of the promise the gods had made, he looked back at Eurydice. Crying out to him, she lamented his poor choice, and was taken back to the depths of the Underworld. Orpheus tried to cross back over through the River Styx, but was not allowed to. Devastated by his failure, he lived the rest of his life in misery, eventually succumbing to death by the hands of Bacchus’ maddened Maenads.
According to mythology, Hades, the god of the Underworld, fell instantly in love with divinely beautiful Persephone when he saw her picking flowers. He decided to capture her one day, using his godly powers to trap her in his underground kingdom, where he made her his wife. Persephone was not the only one who lamented her capture – her mother, Demeter, caused the Earth to fall into drought in order to convince the gods to release her daughter from the Underworld. Eventually, Hades consented to a deal: Persephone would spend half the year with him and half the year with her mother on earth. This explained the turn of the seasons each year to the ancient Greeks: her descent into the Underworld can be seen as a representation of the coming of winter when the land is not fertile and does not yield many crops, while her return to Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, symbolizes the coming of spring.
Hadestown brings these two very old stories to the modern stage in a very fun and accessible way. The music has the audience clapping and swaying in their seats the whole time, and the stage sets convey the tragic natures of the two entwining stories extremely well. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Hadestown won eight Tony Awards in 2019 (including best musical, original score, direction, lighting, and scenic design) and the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album in 2020.
I would definitely recommend visiting the Water Kerr theater on Broadway to see Hadestown yourself. Although the musical is heavily based on the aforementioned Greek myths, it undoubtedly contains many twists and turns that make this modern Broadway tragedy very much its own story. I can guarantee that the musical scores of Hadestown will be playing in your head long after your own ascent from Hades’ town.