A re-telling of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown is a musical with music, lyrics, and book by Anaïs Mitchell. It is set in a post-apocalyptic environment inspired by the Great Depression era. A draft version of Hadestown was initially written in 2006, with a revised version staged in 2007. However, Mitchell was unsure as to what would become of the “folk-opera” and so turned it into a concept album. The album was released in 2010 and featured guest appearances from Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem, and The Haden Triplets (Petra, Rachel, and Tanya Haden). In 2016, Mitchell premiered a new theatrical version of Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop. The musical then went to Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Canada in 2017 and London’s National Theatre, England in 2018 before making its Broadway debut at the Walter Kerr Theatre on April 17, 2019.
The three Fates set the scene before the narrator, Hermes, arrives to introduce each of the characters. Orpheus (Hermes’ ward) and Eurydice are left alone and Orpheus proposes marriage to her, although she is unsure, fearing their mutual poverty and expressing her need for stability. Orpheus reassures her that his new song will bring forth spring again and see the end of their struggle.
Orpheus tells the story of Hades and Persephone via song. Persephone enters the world above from the underworld and joins with Orpheus and Eurydice in celebrating summertime. Toasting Persephone, Orpheus announces his hopes for his future with Eurydice, who meanwhile realizes that she has fallen for him. The couple makes promises to each other that no matter what happens, they will stay together.
As winter arrives, Persephone is taken via train back to Hades’ underground factory, Hadestown – a fate that fills her with misery. Orpheus and Eurydice watch as she is taken away and the Fates extol the virtues of Hadestown and its safety and prosperity. This piques Eurydice’s interest but Orpheus warns her of the maltreatment of Hades’ workers. Eurydice searches for food and fuel to see them through the oncoming cold weather, while Orpheus continues work on his song. Meanwhile, Hades and Persephone quarrel about their relationship.
Perturbed, Hades ventures from Hadestown in search of someone who will appreciate the security provided by the factory. When he finds Eurydice in a state of desperation, he invites her to join him in Hadestown. With the chill encroaching fast and Orpheus away working on his music, Eurydice feels she has no choice but to go with Hades and she sings her goodbyes to her love, leaving for the factory. Orpheus returns to find Eurydice disappeared. Hermes explains that she left for Hadestown and Orpheus sets of to rescue her with the help of Hermes’ instructions, which allow him to travel there without the train. Upon arriving in Hadestown, Eurydice signs the contract to become an official factory worker and begins working on the wall that surrounds the factory.
Without Hades’ knowledge or blessing, Persephone runs a speakeasy where she sings and serves drinks to the workers of Hadestown. The consequences of Eurydice’s decision suddenly dawn upon her – she is a worker now, like the other forgotten people of Hadestown, and she will never be able to leave without Hades’ say-so. As she laments her choice, her memories of the world above begin to slip away.
Now arrived in Hadestown, Orpheus finds Eurydice and petitions her to come home with him, promising that they will get married. However, Hades comes with the cruel truth that, having signed the contract, Eurydice now belongs to him, which is confirmed by the Fates and by Eurydice herself. Hades threatens Orpheus and turns the workers on him, giving chase. As Orpheus tires, the Fates tell him to abandon hope of saving Eurydice. A despairing Orpheus sings of his vow to find a way to save her and as he does so, galvanizes the workers and stirs the heart of Persephone, who takes pity on him.
Affected by Orpheus’ song, Persephone petitions Hades to let Eurydice go. As the workers begin to query all that was promised to them, Hades begrudgingly agrees to let Orpheus sing for him, whilst making plans to kill him afterward. However, Orpheus’ song reminds Hades of his love for Persephone and his heart begins to stir. Hades and Persephone reunite and Orpheus and Eurydice once again vow to stay together no matter what hardships may befall them. Orpheus petitions Hades to let them leave, but Hades tells them he has not yet decided what to do. The Fates mock him in his predicament: he can either make the couple into martyrs by killing Orpheus and refusing to set Eurydice free or he can lose his grip on the factory and its workers, who will no longer fear him if he lets them go. Hades decides to strike a bargain with the pair: they may leave, but Orpheus must lead them and he must not turn to see if Eurydice follows, otherwise, she will be sent back to Hadestown and will belong to Hades forever.
Hermes explains the condition of release to Orpheus and Eurydice as the workers listen on in hope. The two decide to trust each other. Hades and Persephone choose to re-establish their relationship as Orpheus and Eurydice begin to make their way out of Hadestown. Orpheus makes it to the end of the course to the world above, but at the last moment falters and turns to see Eurydice right behind him. In his doubt-led action, he condemns her back to Hadestown forever. Hermes leads Eurydice back to Hadestown and Persephone raises a toast to Orpheus and the tragedy of the tale.
"The best new musical of the season" – The Wall Street Journal
"Sumptuous. Gorgeous. As good as it gets. You wish you could live in the glowy moment forever." - The New York Times
"Unforgettable. Simply one of the most exquisite works of musical storytelling I’ve seen in my more than 25 years as a theater critic. In its supple convergence of story and song, Hadestown represents a step forward for the art form." - Los Angeles Times
"An affirmation of art’s transformative power, with the sort of musicality you rarely hear on Broadway." - Rolling Stone
"Achingly beautiful, powerful, thought-provoking and prophetic." - Newsday
"A Broadway musical like no other. An epic celebration of music, togetherness and hope." - Forbes
"The songs are gorgeous, the band is hot, and the lyrics are eerily apt for our times." - The New Yorker
"Spellbinding! It’s one hell of a show." - Entertainment Weekly
"It roars off the stage with a ferocity that has not been matched on Broadway in a long while. The most relevant musical in town." - Daily News
"Revelatory and inspiring, Hadestown feels like a warming spring breeze after a long winter." - Broadway News
"Your next musical obsession" – Vogue
"Hadestown feels like something more intuitive, elemental, and finely woven than a traditional musical." - The Guardian
"Spellbinding. Hadestown, for a while, makes the world forget its troubles." - Variety
"Hadestown delivers the heartstopping goods." - The Telegraph