Greek tragedy meets folklore

Hadestown North America Tour, Courtesy of T Charles Erickson.

The Renaissance composer, Claudio Monteverdi, was on his way to something when it premiered Orpheus In 1607, which many consider the first great opera. Orpheus It tells the ancient Greek tale of Orpheus, a wonderfully talented musician, who ventures into the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice from the clutches of Hades. This scene was of singers and dancers sharing the stage with 40 lead musicians.

Extends until July 3
Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $40 – $226.

Fast forward over 400 years, and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice sets a new path once again in the groundbreaking story of Anaïs Mitchell. Hudstown. In Mitchell’s music and lyrics, a timeless tale gains new life, set in New Orleans, the place where timeless tales are often told. Hudstown It is located at the intersection of Greek tragic storytelling and American folk rock.

Hudstown She is part of folklore, rock, blues, gospel and jazz. While these styles aren’t typical Broadway fare, the show’s music director Nathan Koshy says, they are appropriate for storytelling. “I think poetry has a lot to do with it. It’s that kind of ‘storyteller with a guitar’ — there’s a lot of rhythm, meaning and choice of words that go into everything.”

Share Koji with Hudstown For five years, it was an important part of the show’s genesis. He was co-director of pre-Broadway musicals at the New York Theater Workshop and in Edmonton, Canada, and has seen the show grow and evolve into its current form. attributed HudstownHis unique style and appeal to a songwriter. “[Mitchell] He has a unique and distinctive style that I think somehow carries it. I think she’s a really wonderful storyteller to the core.”

Mitchell’s background music is not what you would expect from a Tony Award winning composer. For starters, she writes her songs on guitar instead of piano. This has an effect on the musical style.

“On a micro level, it still depends on the guitar,” Koshy says. “There are a lot of numbers that I didn’t start with. The guitarist (Michiko Egger) right behind me is the guy who has been really on the bus for a long time.”

This, he adds, helps maintain the show’s roots in its popular music identity.

Koci is no stranger to storytelling through American popular music. He was recently the music director and vocal arranger for the award-winning Tony revival Oklahoma!which rescues the Rodgers Orchestra and Hammerstein with a bluegrass aperture. Oklahoma! Coming to Orpheum in August. The task of organizing Mitchell’s guitar chords HudstownShe did, though, fall for original band members Michael Churney and Todd Sikavus of San Francisco. The couple won Tony for their act.

Hudstown, Broadway, Anis Mitchell

Kimberly Marable in “Hadestown”. Courtesy of T Charles Erickson.

Kosei says it was their experience that helped preserve Mitchell’s style in the show’s DNA.

“Everyone’s bread and butter makes great music recordings in folklore, rock and jazz. And it’s kind of out of this world that really gave birth to the whole end of music [Hadestown]unlike coming from a true Broadway veteran.”

Distinctive musical language means finding performers who don’t necessarily find a home in musical theatre.

“It created the opportunity to filter out people who are really an aesthetic match to the show,” says Koci. “There are a lot of people who are probably not usually from the world of musical theater…and I think that gives it its own identity and its own voice.”

Kaci leads the group of seven keyboard musicians, although some numbers require him to pick up his accordion. Guitar, bass and drums complete the percussion section, accompanied by violin and cello. There’s also a scene-stealing trombone that helps establish the jazzy atmosphere right from the opening number.

Even the Broadway regulars had to adapt a little. Born in Tennessee, Levi Kress draws on his Southern experience for the role of Hermes, the narrator. Koci cites a particular connection and response moment between Kreis and Edmonton Jazz trombonist Audrey Ochoa that developed as the show grew. It could take a different life when a new trombone joins the band next week.

other than the plot, Hudstown It has much in common with its operatic predecessor. You won’t hear much of the dialogue spoken as the show is sung. There are moments that remind us of the “recitation” you hear in the opera, but it’s sung in the blues style. As in Monteverdi’s early operas, the instrumentalists were on stage to give the full performance, rather than hiding away in the orchestra’s pit.

Hudstown, Nathan Koch

Nathan Koji, courtesy.

Their presence on stage amidst all the action comes with its own set of challenges. Koji tells the stories of the band members exercising at home with lights shining in their faces, trying to acclimatize to the environment on stage. But the reward is worth it.

“It’s nice to be a part of the cast…in the same place. Everyone gets ownership of the storytelling.” The proximity of the actors also affects the band. “If you play for a dance break, to be able to be on stage and We see Dance break – that’s beautiful! “

The actors also get their hands on their performances. In fact, Orpheus plays his guitar during the intimate and emotional “Epic III”. The same is true when destinies (three deities who influence human destinies) pick up the violin, the accordion, and the percussion instrument.

Other musical highlights include the lively opening “Road to Hell”, barn-scorching “Way Down Hadestown”, “Why We Build a Wall” and “Wait”, the melody that was Mitchell’s creative impetus for this show. A favorite of Koci’s is the opening of Chapter Two, “Our Lady of the Underground,” an unexpected contribution by Persephone, the goddess of flowers and Hades’ love interest. Jazzy solo replays the audience at a New Orleans nightclub after the break, introducing them to the band members before continuing with the story.

The success of storytelling is due to more than just music. Rachel Shafkin’s guiding vision combines presentations that define elements and themes. Hudstown He mixes romance with politics, using the deteriorating marriage between Hades and Persephone as a symbol of the unraveling relationship between industry and the environment.

Another obvious political analogy is the construction of a wall by the subjects of Hades. In the tragic first chapter, Hades asks, “Why are we building the wall, my children?” They replied thoughtlessly, “We’re building the wall to keep us free.” This plot point comes from Mitchell’s early drafts of the show and predates the MAGA movement by several years.

While the political undertones are clear, they are not preachy. “I like that it’s not supposed to say, ‘Here’s how it should be,'” says Kosei. “He says the themes are wrapped in famous human conditions like love, fear, and jealousy. These elements push their human characters to make certain decisions, but the show leaves the listener to make their own.”

The technical elements of the show are notable in the storytelling. The design of the Rachel Hauck Collection blends the historic NOLA Preservation Hall with the ancient Greek amphitheater. The Bradley King’s lighting design uses movement and color to compare the beauty of Orpheus’ dream world to the cool, fiery beauty of Hades underground.

“It almost evokes a rock ‘n’ roll party in terms of the way the audience feels,” says Kosi. “There’s a little bit of magic and buzz going on. The space changes, but you’re still in the bar.”

Hermes tells us we’re here to hear a story told through the song. It’s an old song and a sad song. The world in the story is in great need of hope. Orpheus may just be the hero who offered that hope. But again, it’s a sad song.

Although in the end, Hudstown It may have a broader appeal than most Broadway shows. Her musical decisions challenge Broadway traditions and the wave of popular music that defines many new productions. Its mix of folk and rock makes the storytelling more poignant and accessible.