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‘Hadestown’ shines behind excellent performances and deft balance of joy, sorrow

July 6, 2022 Updated Wed., July 6, 2022 at 8:55 p.m.

Young lovers Orpheus and Eurydice make a fate deciding choice to give up love in order to fill an empty stomach.
Young lovers Orpheus and Eurydice make a fate deciding choice to give up love in order to fill an empty stomach.

The ending of “Hadestown” is a gut punch.

Based on a tragic tale from Greek mythology, how could it be anything but? Still, the road to that moment is one filled with joy and love, and, as performed by a most able cast on Tuesday night in Spokane, beautiful music.

The 2019 Tony winner for best musical, “Hadestown” tells the story of two couples from ancient Greek myth. The older couple are Hades, king of the underworld, and Persephone, the goddess of spring. She spends six months in the sunshine, bringing the change of seasons. Her return to Hades signals the beginning of fall. But Hades has grown weary of losing his wife for half the year, and has been keeping her with him longer, wreaking havoc with the folks “living it up on top.”

The young lovers are Orpheus and Eurydice; he’s the son of a muse working on a song to bring the world back into tune, while she’s a “hungry young girl” who makes a fateful choice to give up love in order to feed an empty stomach.

Guiding us through the journey is Hermes, the messenger god who helps ferry souls to the underworld. Played by Tony Award-winning actor Levi Kreis (“Million Dollar Quartet”), he’s part ringleader, part narrator, and he sets the tone from the show’s opening moments on “Road to Hell.” It’s a confident, comfortable performance that shows off Kreis’ vocal range. One can totally see how he won that Tony portraying Jerry Lee Lewis.

As Hades and Persephone, Kevyn Morrow and Kimberly Marable are impressively matched. Morrow, whose Broadway credits include “A Chorus Line,” “Dreamgirls” and “The Color Purple,” lacks the deep, deep voice of the Hades from the original Broadway cast, Patrick Page, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He is a powerful singer, whether he’s finding the deeper register in “Hey, Little Songbird” or channeling a 1930s fascist dictator in “We Build the Wall.” He brings swagger to the role, but shows vulnerability at the end, when he is overwhelmed by the power of Orpheus’ song.

Marable, who came to the tour from the original Broadway cast, makes an excellent Persephone. She really channels the party spirit of the spring goddess and imbues her performance with joy, especially in her opening number, “Livin’ It Up On Top.” By later in the show, when she’s unhappily back in Hades, we can sense her apprehension and her depression. She’s terrific.

Our younger couple are equally impressive. As Eurydice, Morgan Siobhan Green makes an immediate good impression in “Any Way the Wind Blows.” There’s a hint of wistfulness in the performance that struck just the right chord. By the time Eurydice has gone to Hades, in “Gone, I’m Gone,” Green colors the song with profound sadness.

Chibueze Ihuoma, who recently took over the role of Orpheus full time, is charming and delightful. He is a fine singer, showing real skill in the lovely and heartbreaking number “Wait for Me.” His joy is palpable in “Come Home With Me” and “Wedding Song,” as is his fear and heartbreak in “Doubt Comes In.” As an actor, he was a treat to watch. You could read every emotion on his face, from wide-open naivete to deep sorrow.

This is no sword-and-sandals epic – there’s not a toga in sight. The setting is early 20th century America – judging from the wrought iron balcony railings, New Orleans, perhaps? – and the music is an appealing combination of Americana, jazz and some good ol’ Broadway pizazz performed on stage by a top-notch seven-piece band. Created by singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, the show began life as a folk opera before it developed into a full-on musical. Director Rachel Chavkin, who helmed “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” has created a world that feels fully immersive even as it relishes simplicity. The set changes, expanding from the roadside bar setting of the above-ground world to Hades’ massive underworld factory complex, with the souls of the dead as his workforce. The effects are low-key – some swinging lanterns and a revolving stage, and an impressive light show. The costumes fit the characters, with our gods and mythical creatures decked out in sparkles, while the average folk are in simpler attire.

By the time we’re back to “Road to Hell (Reprise),” Kreis shows real emotion at the sadness of it all as the cast pledges to sing this “old song” again and again. But rather than end the show on a dour note, the actors assemble post-ovation for “We Raise Our Cups,” one last number, a toast and a moment of love.

”Hadestown,” reviewed Tuesday, continues through Sunday at the First Interstate Center for Arts, as part of the STCU Best of Broadway Series. For tickets and information, visit broadwayspokane.com.

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