Friday, August 19, 2022

Why aren't you listening to Hadestown?

 You know that annoying guy who keeps trying to get you to listen to the latest album he's discovered until you finally listen to it? 

That's me. I'm that guy. 

So have you ever heard of Hadestown?

Myths Reborn

Hadestown is the latest Broadway hit that first appeared right before the pandemic and came back with a vengence once the theaters reopened. The musical retells the myths of Hades and Persephone and Orpheus and Eurydice. 

Don't know those? Haven't played the video game Hades? Okay quick recap: 

So Hades is the god of the underworld, AKA Hades (I should name my house after myself). And, for the record, as opposed to certain Disney and certain Liam Nissan movies he is NOT the devil. History and mistranslations have combined the king of the underworld with Satan over the centuries but in the original myths Hades was more of a guardian of knowledge and guide to souls than a malevolent plotting bad guy. 

Anyway, so Hades kidnaps Persephone, goddess of spring, drags her to the underworld and makes her his wife. 

...Okay that's bad in modern context but without having to go into anymore cultural detail let's just say that this was less Taken and more Fiddler on the Roof

So anyways, Persephone's mother takes issue with the whole arragement and refuses to let the earth bloom while Persephone is in the underworld, but Persephone can't leave the underworld because of her marriage to Hades (and this whole thing with a pomegranite) for forever so Persephone comes up for six months out of the year and while she's up the world blooms and we have summer. 

Meanwhile Orpheus and Eurydice is a myth about a couple who falls in love when the fairer half ends up dead causing Orpheus the bard and half-muse to go to the underworld to find her and his singing allows him to walk out with Eurydice under the contition that the entire time they're walking out he can't turn around to check if she's still following him. 

Spoiler alert on a story that's somewhere around 3000 years old: He turned around and she was trapped in the underworld forever. 

Modern Twist

Back to Hadestown the musical takes these two myths and combines them into one narrative. Hades and Persephone are currently having marital troubles since Hades keeps dragging Persephone back to the underworld early because he's jealous of her time away from him, and Persephone is sick of Hades obsession with materialism (BTW Hades was also the god of all things underground, including metals and jewels. Fun facts!). 

Meanwhile in the mortal world, the short summers has caused a famine, causing a poor girl named Eurydice to wander from place to place searching for food and shelter till she runs into Orpheus, the son of a muse who is trying to use his special gift of song to heal the world. They fall in love and are married but Orpheus becomes too obsessed with his work to notice Eurydice making a deal with Hades to work in Hadestown in exchange for food and shelter. Orpheus then goes to Hadestown to rescue his beloved and, well, see above for the results, though his song does remind Hades and Persephone why they love each other and does fix the seasons. 

Now picture all this in the Depression era south with bluesy music. 

What's So Great About Hadestown? 

Besides being a squee for us mythology nerds, the story itself is a beautiful allegory for the struggle relationships go through. This isn't a "And they lived happily ever after" story, or a "Love conquers all" story, this is a story about people who come into relationships with their own damage and how that damage needs to be worked through or it will destroy the relationship. 

We also get an even-handed Hades in the show. Hades isn't a meniacle monster plotting against the universe, he's a man in pain who doesn't know how to express it. He loves Persephone and hates that he has to lose her for six months out of the year. He's tried to fill the hole with treasure and labor, but all it does is further drive his beloved queen away. 

To me the musical is beautiful in the tragedy and the victory of it all. In the end, Orpheus brings back the spring but loses his beloved Eurydice, because he couldn't trust that she was just a few steps behind him. It's a great change from the cutesie couple stories that end in the standard "happily ever after", since not everyone gets one. 

So if you need a new bluesy musical fix, something that's along the lines of Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen then check out Hadestown. 

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