Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre
Review by Mo Brady
There’s much to be swept away by in the new Broadway musical Hadestown, which opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre earlier this spring. Perhaps the most prominent is how histrionic the show feels. From its lush design to consistent breaking of the fourth wall, Hadestown is the kind of story we go to the theatre for.
One of the most successful elements of the show is its use of ensemble. This is the kind of ensemble that you wish all shows could achieve. While it is a small chorus of just five actors, each of the players in is a distinct person. Yet they work succinctly as a group to both comment on and move the plot forward. More than any other Broadway ensemble this season, they are channeling an energy that feels truly synchronized.
This team of actors playing the Workers Chorus includes five of Broadway’s most in-demand performers. The production is Legacy Robe recipient Afra Hines’ eighth Broadway Show, after shining in last season’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Timothy Hughes joins the company straight from his memorable turn as Pabbie in the original cast of Broadway’s Frozen.
Hadestown marks John Krause’s first Broadway ensemble after touring with the companies of Wicked and American Idiot. Kimberly Marable joins the company after five years in the ensemble of The Lion King, and Ahmad Simmons is also giving a striking performance this spring playing Ben Vereen in the F/X miniseries Fosse/Verdon.
In Hadestown, the actors in the chorus play two roles. First, they take on the responsibilities of a traditional Greek chorus, representing the voice of the people and commenting on the action. Midway through Act I, they shift to play workers in Hadestown. This troupe of mindless and emotionless plebeians are virtual opposites of their first roles, blending into show’s textured set.
With only a small number of solo lines or specialty features, it’s difficult to call out any one of the five as more notable than the others. However, that is what makes this team so remarkable. You could easily imagine a world where these five characters could be the leads of their own musical.
There’s a long stretch in the show’s second act where the five-member ensemble stands watching the action. They don’t speak and rarely sing, and yet their presence is key. In their faces, we see five distinct people with five distinct takes on the proceedings.
One of the show’s most striking moments is at the very beginning of the performance, where the entire ensemble of 13 players comes on stage and looks directly at the audience. This is not a new theatre trope, but it is nevertheless effective in reminding us that the next 2 1/2 hours will be a shared experience among all people at the Walter Kerr.
As far as critique is concerned, I wish that I cared about the characters more. Yet what’s strange is that I still felt emotionally involved, because I cared about the storytelling. It’s so nice to be at the theatre and be watching something truly theatrical. This is the reason that we put away our phones, stop watching a second screen and sit in a room with 1,000 other people to watch the story that we already know the end of.