It’s a running joke in our Marketing office that I have a “PhD in Hadestown.”
I’ve honestly struggled to write this blog because it is hard to put into words just how much I love Hadestown. It is, in my opinion, the most stunning display of musical theater in every aspect – from music and lyrics to the stage production itself. Hadestown has something for everyone, making it a show all must see.
My journey to discovering Hadestown honestly happened by accident. In the spring of 2018, a full year before Hadestown would hit Broadway, I became absolutely obsessed with a fictional musical podcast called 36 Questions: The Musical Podcast. It stars Broadway, television, and film star Jonathan Groff, but what kept me revisiting the podcast again and again was newcomer Jessie Shelton. I absolutely loved her voice and a quick Spotify search later, I found her as part of an ensemble cast in a song called “Why We Build The Wall.” One listen and I was hooked, throwing myself into a Google frenzy to find out more about this curious new musical called Hadestown where the song originated.
I devoured any video and recording of Hadestown I could and honestly listened to that and nothing else for months when I learned about the Broadway debut. After keeping my eye on tickets for a week, I snagged an Orchestra seat for a Saturday matinee by myself where I was completely captivated by a theater experience unlike any other.
The classic Playbill photo before my 1st Hadestown experience. I had the perfect seat.
For those who don’t know, Hadestownweaves the Greek mythology tales of two pairs of lovers – the young Orpheus & Eurydice and the at-odds Hades & Persephone. With narrator Hermes guiding you through the story, audiences embark with Orpheus to the underworld to retrieve his love Eurydice from Hadestown. And I’m not going to lie; to many that concept sounds heavy…and complicated. But don’t worry! I always preface that you don’t need to know anything about Greek mythology to see Hadestown. The storytelling happens in such a way that every character is fully explained before your eyes, with universal topics that need no explanation.
But it is the music that is the heart and soul of what makes Hadestown a truly unique musical theater experience. Written entirely by singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, the jazzy score pulls listeners in from the first blow of the energetic trumpet and keeps you captivated through the final notes. Similar to beloved shows like Hamilton and Les Misérables, Hadestown is almost entirely sung-through with dialogue seamlessly intertwined with the music. Mitchell is a storyteller who weaves lyrics that feel like poetry through melodies that soar. She had a historic win at the Tony Awards with Hadestown, as the show was the first Best Musical winner to have both book and music & lyrics written by a woman.
Of course, Hadestown was my first show back after the COVID-19 shutdown!
What continuously feels magical about the music to me is hearing its evolution over the years as Hadestown developed from a DIY community theater project to full-fledged Broadway production. The slight changing of lyrics, shift of melodies, new arrangements, and varied vocal styles can be heard across not one, not two, but three beautiful recordings, each with its own artistic flavor.
The original concept album has elements I often describe as “friends around a campfire telling a story”, with an intimate and haunting sound design. The live Original Cast album recorded during the show’s New York Theater Workshop premiere (my personal favorite) gives listeners the first inkling of how this show interacts with an audience. You may even hear some familiar voices if you are a fan of theater or indie music including Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Damon Daunno (Tony Award winner of 2019’s Oklahoma! revival), and even Chris Sullivan of hit tv show This Is Us (Toby). And then finally, the Original Broadway Cast album, which went on to win Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammy Awards.
Album covers for the three Hadestown recordings. Check them all out on our Spotify playlist.
Awards and accolades aside, Hadestown is a remarkable piece of art, but it is honestly its cyclical nature that keeps bringing me back. Many have heard of the song “Wait For Me” as the show’s powerhouse number for what it brings to the plot and its impressive scene design through swinging lamps. It is a showstopping piece of theater – the first time I saw it, the audience stood for a 3-minute applause after the song, right in the middle of the show (it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it).
But the song that makes all of Hadestown worth it to me is the very final number -- a reprise of the opening number “Road to Hell.” It is this song that kept me returning to this work repeatedly for the last 3 years. This quiet, sad song builds over the course of 5 minutes into an all-out release, allowing the audiences to process the emotions evoked over the last 2 hours.
Without any direct lyrics about it, I feel that “Road To Hell (Reprise) perfectly encapsulates what live theater means to so many – singing a song again and again, despite knowing that it will always end. The cyclical nature is even present in the stage direction with the set returning to its opening position, actors returning to their starting places, the music returning to its opening tune. It is this reprise that never fails to give me chills when watching, or even listening, to the show. It lifts the spirits and leaves the show on a hopeful note of rebirth. It is the most satisfying ending to a musical I’ve ever witnessed.
“To know how it ends, still begin to sing it again, as if it might turn out this time.”
I could go on for 10 more pages about my love for this show, but I will leave you with this: grab your ticket to the underworld today and get on that train way down to Hadestown. You won’t regret it.
Morgan Horell is the Marketing Content Associate at the Kimmel Cultural Campus, managing all photo, video, and social media projects that are used in Marketing. She loves all things Broadway, always has a book or podcast recommendation, and makes a fantastic trivia partner.