Hadestown at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The North American Tour of Hadestown. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

If Hadestown proves anything to the audience, it’s that music is power….and so is silence. Hadestown opened at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre last evening and continues to run through February 26th. This was my first time seeing the show, but I was no stranger to the music and the story. Back around 2017/2018 when the original live cast recording of Hadestown came out, I was quickly hooked on the intensity of its music and the mythological backing of the tale. After listening to the soundtrack on repeat for ages, I knew this was a show I had to see when I got the chance. Alas, Covid ruined my previous plans of seeing Hadestown on Broadway and so my first live experience of the stage production was at Shea’s last evening. 

If you aren’t familiar with mythology, I would highly recommend doing some research prior to attending the show to give you a better understanding and appreciation of the story. Thankfully, Shea’s Playbill does include a bit of background information on page 24 if you need a quick refresher. The show centers around the story of Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) and Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) while also referencing the tale of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) and Persephone (Brit West). The story is narrated by none other than Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham), the messenger himself. Orpheus is a poor boy who also happens to be the son of a Muse. He possesses a great musical talent with the ability to charm, persuade, and inspire others with his voice and lyre. He falls in love with Eurydice who is a poor girl with a troubled past and little to live for. Their love creates the hope that Orpheus’ music will be able to provide for them all that money cannot and that the winds of fate will be kind. When Persephone is taken back to the underworld by Hades too soon, the world above returns to winter and times are tough for the poor couple. Orpheus promises to finish a song that will return seasons back to order. In the meantime, Eurydice is left to fend for herself facing cold, hunger, and misery. In her desperation, she strikes a deal with Hades to take her away from the pain of life and provide her with a home and a purpose in the underworld. Once Orpheus realizes she is gone, he embarks on a journey to bring her home that ends up being more challenging than he could ever imagine.

Music is a central part of this show, not only because it is a musical, but because Orpheus’ gift centers around music and the power it holds. Orpheus’ pieces throughout the show are no easy feat. His character is considered a high tenor, but so much more is required of the vocalist who portrays him. Ihuoma’s falsetto soars above the audience and leaves us in awe of how he can have such an incredible range. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Hades whose notes feel as though they are as low as the depths of hell. The contrast between his bass and Orpheus’ tenor is truly beautiful symbolism. Quinn is known for his portrayal of villains, which makes a lot of sense once you hear the capabilities of his voice. As I mentioned before, going along with the power of music in this production is also the power of silence. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed silences of such great lengths in a musical. They carry so much weight and bring immense meaning to character interactions. Once a note finally cuts through the silence, you truly feel it cut through your soul and make the impact the music was meant to. 

My personal favorite piece in the show is “Wait for Me”. This has always been my most repeated track when listening to the album and it did not disappoint with its impact in the show. The staging and choreography for this song is incredibly powerful and unique, utilizing work lights and contrasting light and darkness. It is truly a show-stopper and created endless applause so intense that some who were unfamiliar with the show got up thinking it must be intermission. Wrong. It’s just that extraordinary. 

None of the roles featured in Hadestown are easy to portray by any means and they all require such tenacity and raw talent from the performers that I have no idea how they are able to deliver this caliber of performance day after day. Brit West takes you on an emotional roller-coaster through her portrayal of Persephone and has such a vast range of vocal ability. Hannah Whitley as Eurydice is also a power house and has some featured riffs that really bring the house down. Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes really connects with the audience and is very likeable and comical with his delivery. 

Something else I really appreciated was the little details in the costuming. Hades has a sleeve tattoo that looks like bricks and represents the wall he builds in Hadestown. Persephone has 2 dresses that are exactly the same in cut and style but one is bright green for when she is on earth in the spring and summer and the other is black for the underworld. Hermes has small feathers on the cuffs of his jacket to pay homage to his winged-foot mythology counterpart.

I don’t think Hadestown is meat for a casual theatre-goer. I think it is meant for those willing to understand and appreciate the complexity of the story and the music it contains. You should be somewhat aware of what you’re walking into and know that this is contemporary theatre which is a completely different vibe and encounter than classical musicals. Let yourself get lost in the beauty and power of music and love with a theatrical experience like none other. 

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

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