Photo: Marc Brenner

For those who’ve not heard of Hadestown before, it’s been around in some form or another for the best part of 20 years. Songwriter Anaïs Mitchell starting working on these ideas in the mid-2000s in Vermont, before taking the songs to the studio to record 2010’s lo-fi folk album Hadestown. Following a series of further workshops and small-scale productions off-Broadway during the 2010s, a fully-fledged musical landed at the National Theatre right here in London for a short stint at the end of 2018. It was then re-imagined for Broadway and has enjoyed a hugely successful five-year run there, sweeping the Tony Awards, with the cast recording also picking up a Grammy Award.

It’s no surprise that the show’s return to the UK – and its West End debut, at the Lyric Theatre – is being greeted with some fanfare. Over many years the musical has garnered an army of dedicated followers – the dates that were initially announced have largely sold out, and it’s now booking right up to Christmas. So does it justify the hype?

Well, we’ll get some minor grumbles out of the way first. This show is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – which means that some will already be familiar with how it ends. Those who know the story will also be aware that there’s not much to it – drawing this material out over two-and-a-half hours does mean the narrative feels a little too thinly-spread at times. While the story is told mostly through song, there is a little dialogue, which is perfunctory at best and sometimes a little cringe.

However, most people will come to see a musical for the music – and this is where Hadestown truly excels. It’s easy to see why these songs have gathered such an army of fans – they’re simply brilliant. Whether it’s the whole cast singalong of ‘Way Down Hadestown’, or The Fates are delivering brilliant close-harmony work on ‘When the Chips are Down’, or the brooding ‘Why We Build the Wall’, or epic ballad ‘Wait for Me’… there are so many wonderful songs in this production. The band is excellent, too – reminiscent of a New Orleans jazz band, the musical style is unlike anything else on the West End.

It’s an impressive cast – they’re universally strong singers, so we can’t name check everyone, but in particular we loved the haunting, delicate falsetto of Donal Finn as Orpheus, and the contrast with the menacing, raspy bass of Zachary James as Hades. All the leads are superb, and the supporting cast also deliver fine vocals and some slick choreography – the whole experience looks and sounds incredible.

We had a really great night with Hadestown. The book and the narrative let the side down slightly, but the sheer quality of the music and the performances more than make up for it. It’s quite unlike anything else in the West End right now – well worth a visit, and be prepared for these songs to stay in your head long after you’ve left the theatre.

GAY TIMES gives Hadestown – 4/5

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