Clevelanders take the road to “Hadestown” at Playhouse Square


photo courtesy of Mrs. Jean Kanzinger

The Tony-winning musical “Hadestown” arrived in Cleveland on January 31 to enchant theater goers with its haunting retelling of Greek myths accompanied by a mix of rock and jazz music.

“Hadestown” chronicles the fabled love story of Orpheus, an aspiring songwriter, and Eurydice, a poor woman trying to find a sense of belonging. Other Greek legends surround the leads as Hermes takes Orpheus under his wing in a New Orleans-inspired city. However, Hades remains a looming figure as every autumn he forces his lover, Persephone, to return to his domain: the underworld. As Eurydice becomes increasingly more insecure over Orpheus’ love for her while struggling to even eat, she turns to Hades for help which could either lead to her salvation, or destruction.

Senior Mary Ann Hoelzel saw the play on February 18 and had high expectations after watching the original cast’s Tiny Desk performance. Although she enjoyed the plot and the actor’s voices, she found one aspect lowered her overall enjoyment of the play.

 “My expectations were so high because I love Greek myths, and I love musicals. The one big reason that it did not meet my expectations was because it was so loud. I was sitting like a child listening to fireworks. After the first song was done, I was like ‘I’m gonna be plugging my ears for the rest of the musical’. I would’ve walked out, but it was so good,” Hoelzel shared.

Although national tours take talent from around the world, Hannah Whitley (Eurydice) graduated from Cleveland’s own Twinsburg High School in 2018. In an interview with WKYC, she described her emotions over returning to her hometown to perform in front of thousands of people. 

“That’s what’s so fun about being home, because these people I give so much credit to this moment — to all my mentors, all my teachers,” Whitley said. “It’s the people who believe in you from the get-go. Those people are so special, so for them to be able to see it, that’s what is going to make my heart explode.”

Senior Ember Zelch saw “Hadestown” both on Broadway and in Cleveland. Although she liked the performance at Playhouse Square, she preferred the New York production.

I think the part that disappointed me the most was how Hermes is supposed to be essentially the bloodline of the entire show, and he just wasn’t. It was one hundred percent all Persephone. I thought Persephone was really what kept the Cleveland show together,” Zelch described.

Brit West plays Persephone and has performed in a plethora of national tours including “Dreamgirls” and “Frozen” while also acting in both the national tour and Broadway production of “The Color Purple”. On TV, she appeared in “Power” and “Flesh and Bone” on STARZ.

“She definitely seemed to be the best singer,” Zelch said. “She brought in a lot of the implements of the original Persephone, and her voice just got raspy at points and she did a really good job of humanizing the gods. The whole idea that the Greek gods were inherently flawed, I thought that was interesting.”

The idea of “humanizing the gods” comes from writer Anaïs Mitchell’s desire to make Greek myths more modern in order to connect to a wider audience. Throughout the play, Mitchell criticizes industrialization, climate change, and greed.

“The interpretation was beautiful,” Hoelzel shared. “Adding the social commentary sort of enhanced the storytelling the whole thing where you take these old stories and they’re still relevant today. I think that just keeping the Greek myths modern is really important because if we don’t keep them modern, then no one will care.”