There was young girl looking for something to eat
And brother, thus begins the tale
Of Orpheus and Eurydice!"
Touted as a "folk opera", Hadestown is a Concept Album and subsequent musical written and produced by Anaïs Mitchell. It's a retelling of the Orpheus myth set in a post-apocalyptic world that mimics The Great Depression in the United States. Originally performed as a small-scale stage musical in Vermont, Mitchell extensively revised the work for the 2010 recording, which received critical acclaim which featured the following cast:
- Anaïs Mitchell herself as Eurydice
- Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) as Orpheus
- Ani DiFranco as Persephone
- Greg Brown as Hades
- Ben Knox Miller (of The Low Anthem) as Hermes
- The Haden Triplets as the Fates
In 2016, Hadestown returned to the stage with an expanded story and revised tracklist. This version of the show premiered Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop, followed by a reading at New 42nd Street Studios in 2017, then a production at the Citadel Theatre in Alberta Canada in 2017, which then went to the UK's National Theatre which ran from November 2018 to January 2019. It then transferred to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre, where it premiered on April 17, 2019 with the following cast:
- Reeve Carney as Orpheus
- Eva Noblezada as Eurdiyce
- André De Shields as Hermes
- Amber Gray as Persephone
- Patrick Page as Hades
- Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzales-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad as the Fates
Hadestown opens above-ground, with Eurydice worrying about how her lover Orpheus will provide for her in this poverty-stricken post-apocalyptic world. They arrive at an old train depot, where everyones talking about Hadestown, a walled city under the ground. Hades, the enigmatic king of Hadestown, comes calling for Eurydice when Orpheus is gone and seduces her to the false promise of wealth and security in his underworld kingdom. With directions from Hermes, Orpheus follows Eurydice underground.
Meanwhile, in Hadestown, Hades indoctrinates his worker-citizens, but when he turns his back, his wife Persephone subverts his efforts by plying her contraband from the outside world in a hidden speakeasy. She takes an interest in the newly arrived Orpheus. Eurydice, unaware that her lover is near, laments her decision to follow Hades. Orpheus moves toward her, but is intercepted by the Fates, who tell him struggling is pointless. Orpheus challenges the Fates, and shortly thereafter Hades discovers both Orpheus and the speakeasy.
In the royal bedroom, Persephone appeals to her husband on Orpheuss behalf. Orpheus, too, appeals to Hades, and his singing starts a riot in Hadestown. Desperate, Hades comes up with a plan: Orpheus can have Eurydice back if he can walk out of the underworld ahead of her without turning around to make sure shes there. Orpheus and Eurydice begin their ascent, but when Orpheus reaches the surface, he immediately turns around. Since Eurydice is still in the underworld, she becomes permanently trapped there, and Orpheus is left to Walk the Earth alone.
- "Wedding Song" featuring Justin Vernon (3:18)
- "Epic (Part I)" featuring Justin Vernon (2:22)
- "Way Down Hadestown" featuring Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco and Ben Knox Miller (3:33)
- "Songbird Intro" (0:24)
- "Hey, Little Songbird" featuring Greg Brown (3:09)
- "Gone, I'm Gone" featuring The Haden Triplets (1:09)
- "When the Chips are Down" featuring The Haden Triplets (2:14)
- "Wait for Me" featuring Ben Knox Miller and Justin Vernon (3:06)
- "Why We Build the Wall" featuring Greg Brown (4:18)
- "Our Lady of the Underground" featuring Ani DiFranco (4:40)
- "Flowers (Eurydice's Song)" (3:33)
- "Nothing Changes" featuring The Haden Triplets (0:52)
- "If it's True" featuring Justin Vernon (3:03)
- "Papers (Hades Finds Out)" (1:24)
- "How Long?" featuring Ani DiFranco and Greg Brown (3:36)
- "Epic (Part II)" featuring Justin Vernon (2:55)
- "Lover's Desire" (2:05)
- "His Kiss, The Riot" featuring Greg Brown (4:03)
- "Doubt Comes In" featuring Justin Vernon (5:32)
- "I Raise My Cup to Him" featuring Ani DiFranco (2:10)
- "Road to Hell" Hermes, Company
- "Any Way the Wind Blows" Hermes, The Fates, Eurydice, Orpheus
- "Come Home With Me" Orpheus, Eurydice, Workers
- "Wedding Song" Eurydice, Orpheus, Workers
- Epic I" Hermes, Orpheus
- Living It Up On Top" Hermes, Persephone, Orpheus, Workers
- "All I've Ever Known Intro" Hermes
- "All I've Ever Known" Eurydice, Orpheus
- "Way Down Hadestown" Hermes, Persephone, The Fates, Workers
- "Wind Theme"/"A Gathering Storm" Hermes, Eurydice, Orpheus, The Fates
- "Epic II" Orpheus, Workers
- "Chant" Persephone, Hades, Eurydice, Orpheus, Hermes, The Fates, Workers
- "Hey, Little Songbird" Hades, Eurydice
- "When The Chips Are Down Intro" Hermes, Eurydice, Hades
- "When The Chips Are Down" The Fates, Eurydice
- "Gone, I'm Gone" Eurydice, The Fates
- "Wait For Me Intro" Hermes, Orpheus
- "Wait For Me" Hermes, Orpheus, The Fates, Workers
- "Why We Build the Wall" Hades, Eurydice, Company
- "Why We Build the Wall Outro" Hermes
- "Our Lady of the Underground" Persephone, Company
- "Way Down Hadestown (Reprise)" Fates, Eurydice, Hermes, Workers
- "Flowers" Eurydice
- "Come Home With Me (Reprise)" Orpheus, Eurydice
- "Papers Intro" Hades, Hermes, Orpheus
- "Papers" Instrumental
- "Nothing Changes" The Fates
- "If It's True" Orpheus, Hermes, Workers
- "How Long" Persephone, Hades
- "Chant (Reprise)" Hermes, Hades, Orpheus, Persephone, Eurydice, Workers
- "Epic III" Orpheus, Company
- "Lover's Desire" Instrumental
- "Promises" Eurydice, Orpheus
- "Word to the Wise" The Fates
- "His Kiss, The Riot" Hades
- "Wait For Me (Reprise) Intro" Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice
- "Wait For Me (Reprise)" Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, Hades, The Fates, Workers
- "Doubt Comes In" The Fates, Orpheus, Eurydice, Workers
- "Road to Hell (Reprise)" Hermes, Company
- "We Raise Our Cups" Persephone, Eurydice, Company
- Accidental Hero: While he can't save Eurydice, Orpheus ends up saving everyone else outside Hadestown when his song reconciles Hades and Persephone, ending the storm that came over the land.
- Adaptational Villainy: Hades, though he is given a sympathetic motivation and shown getting at least slightly better by the end, is more openly malicious than he was originally in Greek mythology. Here, he baits workers into coming to Hadestown and makes them do back-breaking labor almost constantly while paying them next to nothing.
- Adaptation Expansion: The album is a revision/adaptation of a small-scale stage musical (also by Anais Mitchell) that had two runs in Vermont. The stage musical was a very abstract, spare experience with relatively little in the way of explicit story — it was after the release of the album that Mitchell began to flesh out the songs on the album with more songs ("Road to Hell" and "Chant" and their reprises most notably) to make the setting and the nature of events much clearer.
- Adult Fear: All of Chant I with the leads bring up realistic fears.
- Hades is trying to reach out to his wife but is driving her away further with his actions. Eventually he gets so frustrated that he says he'll find someone else who will appreciate him.
- Persephone says she dislikes her husband for causing the Earth to rot and people to starve, with the crops dying and the oceans overflowing. She says she doesn't know him anymore.
- Meanwhile, it's the dead of winter. A starving Eurydice is robbed of everything she has — by the Fates, no less— and can only scream to the cold for someone to, "SHELTER US,HARBOR ME!" It makes her the perfect prey for Hades, who lures her to Hadestown with a promise of food and warmth.
- Orpheus senses something is wrong when Eurydice goes missing while he is working on the song. Then he finds out that she sold herself into slavery, and is beaten up when he tries to rescue her.
- Hermes, who had raised Orpheus as his son, had to contend with the young man venturing to Hadestown on his own to rescue Eurydice. Hermes is clearly well aware of the dangers Orpheus will run into, but because Orpheus is so dead-set on going, all Hermes can do is give him specific instructions on how to stay safe on his way to Hadestown in Wait For Me and hope that he returns. He can't stay away forever, however; he goes Papa Wolf and follows Orpheus, encouraging him to sing to Hades and giving him and Eurydice the advice on how to pass the test.
- Just the idea of being coerced into selling yourself into slavery under false pretenses and becoming a shell of yourself while working yourself to death for the rest of your new, bleak, miserable life.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Persephone doesn't beg for herself, but for Orpheus. She asks for Hades to let Eurydice go, out of the memory for the love they used to have. Hades refuses, but admits that he wishes their relationship was the way it used to be.
- All-Knowing Singing Narrator: Hermes, who opens and closes the show knowing a bit too much about how this will all end
- All There in the Manual: To fully understand the setting and plot of the concept album when it came out, you needed to read the history and libretto on the former official website.
- All There in the Script: The workers who sing with Hades in "Why We Build The Wall" are called Cerberus in the lyrics on the official site.
- Alternative Character Interpretation: Invoked by Hermes and the Fates as they narrate:
- Instead of being a faithful husband and son of the muse Calliope that loses his wife in a tragic accident, Orpheus is portrayed as a hopeless dreamer that uses music to beat their Perpetual Poverty. His music is his greatest strength, as we see when he tries to reason with Hades, but he often forgets practicalities like food and firewood, despite his love for Eurydice.
- Eurydice is shown to want a better life and chooses to go for it when Hades tempts her. In most versions of her story, she dies due to a wayward snake biting here and some bad luck. The Fates ask us if we should judge her.
- Hades in Greek mythology was relatively the most faithful god in his marriage. Here, he preys on vulnerable people to recruit them to work in Hadestown.
- Then there's Persephone. It's unclear if Hades in the Broadway version kidnapped her or if she married him of her own volition and isn't bound by any deal; the off-Broadway production confirmed the former, that Persephone followed him into the Underworld. They did really love each other once, but she seems not to have a choice about going back to Hadestown. In any case, Hades complains about her staying away too long and says that he misses her.
- Then there is Hermes. In Greek mythology, he's a messenger of the gods, not a bard. He's also the patron god of medicine. Here he serves as a muse telling the story, in the hopes that the cycle will break. Can we trust Hermes when he sends Orpheus to Hadestown and claims he's telling the tale to break the cycle?
- Ambiguous Time Period: Right from the outset, the first sung lines are "Once upon a time, there was a railroad line / Don't ask me where, brother, don't ask when", which Mitchell indicates in her annotated lyrics, and calls it "liberating to just have Hermes say: 'Don't ask!'"
- Anachronism Stew: As Hermes says, "Don't ask where, brother, don't ask when." It's not just that this is a Setting Update of an ancient Greek myth to the 20th-century United States; the creators have been very open that despite the show being billed as a "Depression-era" show, the setting freely borrows aesthetics from both earlier and later decades.
- An Aesop: It's easy to believe in your abilities when things are going perfect. It takes real courage to believe in yourself and your loved ones when the deck is stacked against you.
- Animal Motifs:
- Eurydice is repeatedly compared to a songbird, first as an inspiration to Orpheus' own musical talents, his muse. After being seduced by Hades, she's compared to a canary kept in a mine and a caged bird that can no longer fly just as Eurydice can no longer return to the surface.
- Hades is compared to a snake. Like the biblical snake, Hades is a sly tempter who manipulates Eurydice into ruining her life by offering her a choice to stay in poverty with Orpheus or live in safety and comfort in Hadestown. It's also an allusion to the mythical Eurydice's death from a snake bite.
- As of the Broadway production, the only animals referenced in the entire show are birds, snakes, and dogs.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Orpheus delivers one to Hades during "Epic III":Orpheus: And what has become of the heart of that man/Now that the man is King?/What has become of the heart of that man/Now that he has everything?
- Badass Boast: Hades in "Chant (Reprise)".Hades: Young man, you can sing your ditty/I CONDUCT THE ELECTRIC CITY!
- Bad Samaritan: Hades. He offers Eurydice a way out of poverty and instability, but it's all a front: once he has what he wants from her, he leaves her to work herself to death for him just like all his other workers. In "Way Down Hadestown II", the Fates imply that most of his workers were 'rescued' from similar circumstances.
- Basso Profundo: Greg Brown as Hades. His voice has been described as "subterranean."
- Patrick Page of the Edmonton/London/Broadway productions seems to be continuing this tradition, with bass tones described by reviews as "practically a special effect".
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Eurydice wanted to "lie down forever."
- Big Bad: Hades.
- Bittersweet Ending: Aside from the Downer Ending for Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone are at a better place in their relationship than before and it's implied he let Persephone return to the Earth much earlier.
- Book-Ends: "Road to Hell" and "Road to Hell (Reprise)", with "We Raise Our Cups" serving as an epilogue.
- Break the Cutie: What poverty and starvation, plus Hades, does to Eurydice.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Persephone takes a moment during "Our Lady of the Underground" to introduce the band to the audience.
- Broken Bird: Persephone.
- BSoD Song: "Flowers (Eurydice's Song)" for Eurydice. "If It's True" and "Doubt Comes In" for Orpheus. "His Kiss, The Riot" for Hades.
- Cabin Fever: In "Our Lady of the Underground."Persephone: Six feet under getting under your skin/Cabin fever is a-setting in
- Call-and-Response Song: "Why We Build The Wall".
- Canon Immigrant: Eurydice's song "Any Way the Wind Blows" is this, of sorts. The song debuted on Anais Mitchell's 2014 album xoa, which had a limited release and contained covers of multiple tracks from the original Hadestown album but wasn't directly connected to Hadestown. The song was added to the Hadestown stage show starting with the NYTW run, heavily edited to remove Real Life references and adding narration from Hermes to make it fit with the plot of the show.
- Capitalism Is Bad: Persephone doesn't look kindly on Hades' industrial empire. Not only does the by-product pollution of his furnaces and factories mess with the delicate balance of nature, but Hades treats his workers like slaves; the work is hard and long and the pay is nothing, and when they inevitably work themselves to death? Well, Hades can always find more.
- The Cassandra: Hermes serves as this to Orpheus. He warns Orpheus against marrying Eurydice in a rush and warns Eurydice about what Hadestown is really like. No one really listens to him, until Orpheus asks for directions to Hadestown.
- Character Development: Orpheus starts the play refusing to take Hermes's sensible advice. He then becomes more thoughtful and introspective when Eurydice goes missing, and follows the god's directions on how to get to his wife and Hadestown.
- Circular Reasoning: The ultimate point of "Why We Build The Wall", is that the people of Hadestown are stuck in this. Because they are building a wall, they have work. Because they have work, they believe their neighbors to be jealous of them. And because they think their neighbors are jealous of them, they need to build a wall.
- Colorblind Casting: All the characters are listed as "Any ethnicity" on the casting call except Hades, who is specified to be Caucasian.
- Company Town: The realm of Hades is reimagined as one of these — Hadestown is a city where everyone is guaranteed a job, but that job is working in Hades' mines, factories or the endless construction site of the Wall, Hades is everyone's boss, and the only place to spend any money or have any fun is Persephone's "Our Lady of the Underground" speakeasy.
- The song "Way Down Hadestown" suggests the whole world of the play is the Company Town of Hadestown, with the "Up Above" world outside of it just the unemployed drifters on the outskirts of it. Specifically, the Fates point out that all of the money in the world — "every little penny in the wishing well, every nickel on the drum" — originates from Hadestown one way or another.
- Cool Shades: Hades wears them while above ground.
- Counterpoint Duet: "How Long".
- Crapsack World: Things are bad above ground, where poverty and starvation are always barely an inch away.Times being what they are
Dark and getting darker all the time
- Crapsaccharine World: For Eurydice, Hadestown; she's built it up in her mind as a paradise of wealth and stability, thanks to the Fates' lies:Everybody dresses in clothes so fine
Everybodys pockets are weighted down
Everybody sipping ambrosia wine
It's a goldmine in Hadestown
- Hermes is quick to tell her what Hadestown is really like, but she doesn't listen:
Everybody slaves by the sweat of his brow
The wage is nothing and the work is hard
Its a graveyard in Hadestown!
- Crisis Makes Perfect: Orpheus tries working on the song that will reconcile Hades and Persephones. He gets so in the zone and blocked that Hades manages to convince Eurydice to come to Hadestown when Orpheus is composing. When does Orpheus finally get it right? When Hades is threatening to kill him unless he sings "one last song".
- Crowd Song: "Why We Build The Wall".
- Curtain Call: This show is unusual in that, technically, "Road to Hell (Reprise)" is the last song in the show proper, and the song "We Raise Our Cups" is sung after the curtain call, with the implication that the actors are now out of character and singing about Orpheus the mythic figure.
- Darkest Hour: "Doubt Comes In".
- Dark Reprise: Happens multiple times through the show, which functions as a whole as a metaphor for loss of innocence — as we learn more about the dark nature of the world of the play and of the city of Hadestown specifically, we come back to previous themes (both literal and musical) with a clearer understanding of the darkness behind them:
- "Way Down Hadestown" and "Way Down Hadestown (Reprise)" is a straightforward example, with the first iteration of the song being a lively party song where Eurydice is being tempted by promises of riches and security in Hadestown, and the second being her dark realization at what Hadestown is actually like.
- "Chant" and "Chant (Reprise)" are this, first appearing as a Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number establishing everyone's motivations, and the reprise allowing Hades to take over the song and reveal to Orpheus the full extent of his villainous motivations.
- "Chant" is also, itself, a Dark Reprise of "Wedding Song", with Persephone and Hades' verses a dark reflection of Orpheus and Eurydice's innocent flirting aboveground — instead of young lovers jokingly extracting extravagant promises from each other about the future, it's an old married couple flinging barbs at each other about what they've done for each other in the past and how they now feel owed and taken for granted.
- "Road to Hell (Reprise)" is one for "Road to Hell", bringing back the rousing Opening Chorus and making its title literal, showing us a heartbroken, exhausted Hermes with all the excitement he had to start telling this story wrung out of him by a tragic ending that — we finally learn — he's known was inevitable all along. But see Triumphant Reprise below.
- Deal with the Devil: Orpheus makes one with Hades, as in the original myth. He is allowed to bring Eurydice back to the surface unhindered under one condition: she follows behind him, and if he turns to look at her before they've reached the surface she must remain behind forever. Hades correctly guesses that Orpheus won't be able to take it, and he'll turn to look to know that she's still there before they reach the surface.
- Despair Event Horizon: Eurydice hits it when she realizes how truly screwed she is in "Way Down Hadestown (Reprise)". Then, after the Hope Spot of "Promises", Orpheus and Eurydice fly right past it again when he makes the fateful turn to look in "Doubt Comes In". The opening of "Road to Hell (Reprise)" reveals that witnessing the ending of the story has made Hermes hit the horizon, with Andre de Shields' powerful tenor now broken and nearly silent, trying and failing to rouse himself with his trademark "Aight" only to almost break into tears.
- Destructive Romance: Hades and Persephone, touched upon in "How Long". Despite how much they hurt each other just by being near, they still love each other too much to give up on their relationship.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- "Hey Little Songbird" has Hades, an older, richer man in a position of power tricking Eurydice, an impoverished, vulnerable young woman into working for him under false pretenses. Eurydice doesnt't realize just what exactly she agreed to until it's too late.
- "Our Lady of the Underground" reveals that Persephone built her speakeasy around a crack in the Wall that surrounds Hadestown, and charges a "pay-per-view" to let people look through it and see the sky, as though it were a peep-show from the 1930s. Apparently, Hades considers glimpses of the outside world just as obscene and dangerous to public order as Moral Guardians of the '30s saw pornography.
- Downer Ending: Orpheus looks back just before they're safe, trapping Eurydice in Hadestown forever.
- Drone of Dread: At the end of "Doubt Comes In," there is a painfully long note when Orpheus looks back at Eurydice too early, breaking his Deal with the Devil.
- Empire with a Dark Secret: Hades' wall isn't keeping out any enemy...
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite his greed and lust for power that leads him to imprison his workers underground until they drop dead, Hades genuinely loves his wife Persephone and wants to make her happy.
- Everybody Hates Hades: Very much the case here. Hades isn't even the god of the dead, but instead the mayor of a ghost town. At the same time, though, it's not taken to the same extent of other portrayals as Hades — Hades isn't defeated at the end of the play, and cannot be defeated. It's implied that the world needs him and the harsh, cruel forces he represents to maintain the balance of nature as much as it needs Persephone.
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: In the Broadway production, all the gods and only the gods have a bit of glitter to their costumes.note
- Evil Sounds Deep: Hades to the extreme. Also, one of the Fates is portrayed by a contralto. Just listen to that final low note in "Nothing Changes".
- Expository Theme Tune: "Road to Hell" is a very old-fashioned song where Hermes and the Chorus go through the cast and introduce the setting of the show and the characters one by one with No Fourth Wall. Mitchell said she intended the opening of the show to evoke both the idea of Hermes as an informal storyteller and to pay homage to ancient Greek epics, which would typically begin with an enumeration of the gods and heroes who appear in the narrative (and giving each of the gods mentioned their due praise to avoid their wrath).
- Fashionable Asymmetry: In the Broadway version, Persephone's summer gown has extravagant puffy shoulders that are hand-sewn and asymmetrical. The Fates' gowns are also asymmetrical and subtly mismatched with each other.
- Feminist Fantasy: Sort of. Much has been made of the fact that Mitchell changed the original myth to give both Eurydice and Persephone a great deal more agency — Eurydice actively chooses to go with Hades rather than simply dying of an accidental snakebite, and Persephone is actively fighting Hades and undermining his rule rather than only being moved to intervene on Orpheus' behalf at the moment he sings. Moreover, the earlier myth of the Rape of Persephone is portrayed in a much more negative light and Hades as much more of a bad guy. However, many things that a more shallow "girl power" take on the myth might change have not been changed. Eurydice remains a helpless victim of Hades' power who has to trust entirely in Orpheus to save her, and no one questions the fact that Persephone cannot actually overthrow Hades as Top God or change his rules — all she can do is try to persuade him to be merciful (and, despite how negatively he's portrayed, the balance of nature can only be restored by her reconciling to him as his wife). Mitchell has said she wanted to stay true to the Greek idea of Tragedy and of struggling against forces you can't actually defeat, and that includes women struggling to survive in a world ruled by men.
- Final Love Duet: "Doubt Comes In".
- Foregone Conclusion: Assuming you're at all familiar with Greek mythology, you can pretty much guess how this one ends- Orpheus fails to bring Eurydice back the surface, and they never see each other again. In the opening song of the theatrical version, "Road to Hell", Hermes outright tells the audience that the story they're about to watch is "a sad tale, it's a tragedy".
- Fourth Date Marriage: Deconstructed; Hermes warns Orpheus against marrying Eurydice on seeing her, but Orpheus doesn't listen. Hermes mockingly calls Eurydice the muse for Orpheus and not his true love.
- Fourth-Wall Observer: Hermes, naturally, but it's implied that all the gods are this to some extent.
- Greek Mythology: It's based primarily on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as incorporating several other figures from Greek mythology in Hades, Persephone, and Hermes.
- The Gods Must Be Lazy:
- Persephone due to her alcohol habit and domestic disputes forgets about spring. Just as she brings in some warmth, Hades calls for her.
- Hermes seems very angry and disappointed in Orpheus when Eurydice goes underground, and he's absolutely devastated when Orpheus fails to get her back. And yet he himself does very little to actually try to stop Eurydice from taking Hades' offer or to directly help Orpheus get her back, other than give him directions to find the "back way" into Hadestown. It's strongly implied that as a god under Hades' rule he can't do anything to directly help anyone defy Hades.
- Götterdämmerung: Heavily implied in the Broadway musical that this had occurred, given the state of the world and hints that Hades and Persephone have taken on the mantles and responisibilites associated with other gods.
- Grief Song: Inverted with "We Raise Our Cups", as Persephone and Eurydice sing a "reverse elegy" for Orpheus, who escaped Hadestown but now must Walk the Earth alone.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: Crossed with Breaking the Fourth Wall — "Road to Hell" begins with Hermes acknowledging this is an old and well-known myth already ("It's an old song... but we're gonna sing it again"), and "Road to Hell (Reprise)" has him tell us he always knew the ending to this story, having sung the song many times before and knowing he'll sing it again. This is complete with the whole stage resetting to the opening of the show, complete with Eurydice — whom we just saw lost to Hadestown forever — reappearing as she was before the story happened, once more asking Hermes for a light.
- Guttural Growler: Greg Brown or Patrick Page as Hades.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack/Playing the Heart Strings: "Doubt Comes In."
- HeelFace Door-Slam:
- Eurydice regrets leaving Orpheus and signing over her life to Hades. When Hermes tells them they have a chance to leave, she promises Orpheus that she will make it up to him. Unfortunately, she never gets the chance.
- Hades promises to Persephone that he'll let her go and make spring, and he'll wait for her to come in the fall. She says she'll make an honest effort to reconcile with him. Then the story ends, and Hermes restarts it again before they can properly reconcile.
- Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": Subtle example; those who study Greek mythology know that Hermes was a rapist and Hades was a Reasonable Authority Figure and the most faithful divine husband, relatively speaking. With Hermes telling the tale here, he switches the roles: Hadestown Hermes is the Only Sane Man and The Cassandra trying to give Orpheus and Eurydice a happy ending, or at least to keep Orpheus happy, and Hades is an exploitative boss that preys on vulnerable people to lure them to Hadestown and work for eternity. Persephone also goes from a Nice Girl with plant powers to a Lady Drunk running a speakeasy.
- Here We Go Again!:
- "Road To Hell (Reprise)" sees the entire story start over, with Eurydice and Orpheus returning to exactly where they were at the start of the show, ready for the tragedy to begin again.
- Hermes also laments that Hades and Persephone have the same argument every year.
- Hope Is Scary: This ends up being the core theme of the show — Orpheus' song contains the power of hope that destabilizes Hadestown and threatens to upend the order of the world, and as tragic as the ending of his story is, Hermes can't help replaying it again and again "as though it might turn out this time".'Cause heres the thing
To know how it ends
And still begin to sing it again
As if it might turn out this time
I learned that from a friend of mine
See, Orpheus was a poor boy
But he had a gift to give
He could make you see how the world could be
In spite of the way that it is
- If We Get Through This...: Before they undergo their final trial, Orpheus promises to Eurydice that he will be there for her and become the husband she wanted, and she in turn promises to be faithful. Sadly, neither of them gets the chance because Orpheus turns around too early.
- Impossible Task: This trope was a theme of classic English love songs, where one lover (usually a woman) challenges the other (usually a man) to answer an impossible question or perform an impossible task to prove himself worthy. (One famous example is "Scarborough Faire"; another is "Riddles Wisely Expounded", which Anaïs Mitchell covered in her album Child Ballads.) "Wedding Song" is a straight example of this trope, although the tasks aren't so much impossible as very difficult for someone as flat broke as Orpheus is. Hades and Persephone's verses in "Chant" are an inversion, with Persephone expressing her disgust at the things Hades has already done to try to win her affection.
- I Will Find You: Orpheus to Eurydice in "Wait For Me", vowing to track her down in Hadestown after she vanishes.
- The Ingenue: Eurydice.
- Irony: Orpheus misses Hades taking away Eurydice because he's composing the song that he hopes will convince Hades and Persephone to reconcile and end the storm to the land. Then when he finally sings the song for the couple, it's to save Eurydice. Nevertheless, his song ends up reconciling them after all.
- Lady Drunk: Persephone spends a good portion of her time completely wasted.
- Large Ham: Hades during "Chant II".
- Persephone as well in "Our Lady of the Underground".
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the theatrical version, Hermes warns Orpheus and Eurydice that their trust in each other is about to be tested in front of gods and men, and points to the audience when he says men.
- Leitmotif: La la la la la la la...
- Let's Duet: Many of the songs — "Wedding Song" (Orpheus and Eurydice), "Hey Little Songbird" (Hades and Eurydice), "Wait For Me" (Hermes and Orpheus), "How Long" (Persephone and Hades), "Doubt Comes In" (Orpheus and Eurydice), and "I Raise My Cup To Him" (Persephone and Eurydice).
- Love at First Sight: "Epic (Part Two)": Hades fell in love with Persephone the moment he saw her in Demeter's garden.
- Also "Come Home With Me", where Orpheus declares to Eurydice that he's the man who's going to marry her, before he's even told her his name.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "When The Chips Are Down" is a fatalistic but very jaunty and catchy song.
- The same applies to the opening of the show, "Road to Hell", which remains a peppy party number even as Hermes outright tells the audience "It's a sad song, it's a tragedy!"
- Manipulative Bastard: Hades, who never commits direct violence against Eurydice but instead lures her to Hadestown and away from her husband through seduction and preying on her fear of having to provide for both herself and Orpheus. Even when he's persuaded to give Orpheus and Eurydice a chance to be together again, he manages to come up with a deal that seems fair and which Orpheus will agree to but still ends with Hades getting exactly what he wants.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Way Down Hadestown," through and through.
- "Chant" becomes this in the Broadway version
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Orpheus' song seems normal enough, but the massive set change halfway through Wait For Me implies otherwise. The gods also aren't quite clear about whether they're literal gods or just powerful people, although later editions of the show imply the former. Orpheus believes that if he perfects his song, he can bring back spring, and bring the world back into tune. Once he finishes it, his song is able to repair Hades and Persephone's love; and as a result, spring indeed comes again as Persephone steps off the train in Road to Hell (reprise).
- Melismatic Vocals: Anais Mitchell as Eurydice, particularly in "Flowers (Eurydice's Song)."
- Minimalism: The present action is very much the focus. The past of the characters are brief outside of Hades and Persephone, and the backstory is relegated to fridge and All There In The Manuel.
- Minimalist Cast: There's Eurydice, Orpheus, Persephone, Hades, Hermes, and the Fates.
- Mr. Exposition: Hermes's main function.
- Musical Chores: "Chant" and its reprise are structured around the workers of Hadestown singing a dreary work song ("Oh, you gotta keep your head, keep your head low...") while the main characters sing verses over them. Notably this makes "Chant" a Dark Reprise of "Wedding Song", which depicts a carefree bucolic paradise.
- Musicalis Interruptus: One of the most heartwrenching ones in Broadway history, at the end of "Doubt Comes In".Eurydice: Orpheus, hold on
Hold on tight, it won't be long
The darkest hour of the darkest night
Comes right before the dawn—(gasps as Orpheus turns around)
- My God, What Have I Done?: The workers have this reaction when they realize they beat up an innocent man on Hades's orders and ask, "Why do we turn away when our brother is bleeding?" in response to a battered Orpheus's song.
- Mythology Gag:
- One sly reference to the original Greek myths is the "ticket" Hades offers to Eurydice comes in the form of two identical coins or tokens, a reference to the oboloi that were placed over the eyes or in the mouth of corpses in Greek tradition so they could pay the ferryman's toll to enter Hades.
- Persephone generically addresses members of the Chorus as "brother" through the show, but it does hit a little differently when she directly calls Hermes "brother", both times asking him to pass around the wine (in "Livin' It Up on Top" and "We Raise Our Cups"). After all, in the myth they were half-siblings.
- Persephone personifying the Moon as a woman and, specifically, as a pornographic pinup model — comparing letting people see the night sky through the crack in the Wall to a pay-per-view peep-show — is extra resonant if you know the myth of Artemis and Actaeon, and how voyeuristically looking at the Goddess of the Moon nude was an extra taboo act in ancient Greek myth.
- Not So Different:
- In a heroic example, Orpheus to Hades in "Epic (Part Two)".(In the NYTW production, onward, it's Epic III, especially played up in the Broadway version.) It's in an attempt to persuade Hades to let Orpheus bring Eurydice back to the surface by comparing the two of them to Hades and Persephone. Hades is actually moved enough by it to let him try, though not without one condition.
- Hades, about Orpheus, from "His Kiss, The Riot," though he is recognizing the similarity to Orpheus in himself rather than persuading Orpheus of their similarities.Hades: Nothing makes a man so bold/As a woman's smile and a hand to hold/But all alone his blood runs thin/And doubt comes— [Hesitant Dramatic Pause] doubt comes in.
- In the original version of "Chant II," Persephone tells Eurydice that like her she fell in love with a man and followed him into the dark. She says that Orpheus's song reminded her how Hadestown used to be.
- Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Inverted; of all the people in the place, Orpheus and Eurydice end up in the worst position by the end of the play.
- Orphean Rescue: The story is based on the myth of Orpheus, though in this case, Eurydice isn't literally dead but instead trapped in an underground city as a worker.
- The Place: The title, "Hadestown", refers to the titular town Eurydice becomes trapped in.
- Playing Card Motifs: In the original concept album, Orpheus refers to Hades as the "king of diamonds, king of spades";note referring to his being the god of wealth and the Underworld. In turn, Hades refers to Orpheus as a "jack of hearts".
- Politically Correct History: It isn't actual history, but the fact that this setting evokes New Orleans in the 1930s while having mostly Color Blind Casting comes off as this. Hades is specifically cast as an older white man to show us who held the power in the South during the Great Depression, but in the Broadway staging the two other most prominent gods, his wife Persephone and his counterpart Up Above Hermes, are played by black actors, and the Fates who rule all are all non-white. The Workers in Hadestown itself are also a freely mixed group of races and genders, in stark contrast to how a Company Town in the South would've been run back then.
- Politeness Judo: Orpheus uses his words and music to reason with Hades and begs for his wife's freedom. It works halfway; Hades agrees to let them go if Orpheus can pass his test.
- Quarreling Song: "How Long", in which Hades and Persephone argue over whether to let Orpheus go with Eurydice or leave them both trapped in Hadestown, along with their marital problems.
- Radio Voice: In the original concept album the Fates' vocals in "Gone, I'm Gone" have this effect applied to them to imply that they're only voices in the back of Eurydice's mind. Hermes' spoken verses in "Wait For Me" do as well, implying they're a recording or they're a memory echoing in Orpheus' head that he keeps consulting for advice during his journey.
- Ray of Hope Ending: Like in the myth, Orpheus fails the test and Eurydice is trapped in Hadestown forever; as Hermes reminds us, it's a tragedy. But he also reminds the audience of the importance of telling sad and inspirational stories, and the characters pledge to sing the story again and again, in the hope that this time it will turn out right.
- Read the Fine Print: Eurydice signed papers in Hades's office without reading them. The Fates informed her that she signed her life away and now has to work on the wall.
- Rhymes on a Dime: This being a Sung Through show, there is very little spoken dialogue. However, when a character does speak, it's usually in verse rather than prose.
- Sadly Mythtaken: The musical takes several liberties with Greek mythology, though most of these are intentional in order to put a new spin on the original stories.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Hades and Persephone are a darker example where their personalities play into their fear of their deteriorating marriage: The former is a stoic but loving husband hoping to win his wife back with impressive machinery, but also a stern boss with little to no empathy for his slaves who he tricked into working for him, while the latter is a benevolent, outgoing party girl who laments how cruel her husband has become and drowns her sorrows with alcohol while playing up her happiness to others.
- Inverted with the excitable, idealistic Orpheus and the more cynical, pragmatic Eurydice
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Justin Vernon as Orpheus in the concept album (see Voice of the Legion).
- Shame If Something Happened: "Hey Little Songbird":Hades: Always a pity for one so pretty and young/When poverty comes to clip your wings/And knock the wind right out of your lungs/Hey, nobody sings on empty.
- Show Within a Show: A hybrid of this and No Fourth Wall — the show imagines itself as a low-budget improvised performance put together by traveling performers in some abandoned warehouse somewhere in the Mississippi Delta in the Great Depression (even though in Real Life it's obviously a high-budget, high-tech Broadway production). Hermes repeatedly talks straight past the fourth wall about how this is an "old song, that was written long ago" and all the current performers are doing is reenacting it, and the actors sing one final song fully out of character ("We Raise Our Cups") after the curtain falls.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Persephone is technically Queen of the Underworld, but also the goddess of spring.
- The Song Before the Storm: "His Kiss, The Riot".
- Soprano and Gravel: Eurydice and Hades in "Hey Little Songbird."
- Southern Gothic: Hadestown is very much a tribute to this genre, turning a Depression-era mining town somewhere on the Gulf Coast into a metaphor for the classical Land of the Dead. (Similarly, the score of the musical is Anais Mitchell's own take, as a folk singer-songwriter from Vermont, on the Gothic Country Music genre.)
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Orpheus and Eurydice end as this. Orpheus cannot return to Hadestown to see her and Eurydice cannot go to him on the surface because Orpheus broke the condition that Hades gave when he let the two of them go.
- Starving Artist: Orpheus is a musician living through an economic depression. As early as "Wedding Song", Eurydice expresses concern that he can properly provide for them. Lampshaded in "Hey Little Songbird".Hades: He's some kind of poet and he's penniless
Give him your hand, he'll give you his hand-to-mouth
He'll write you a poem when the power's out
- The Stinger: A rare theatrical version: the final song in the show happens after the curtain call.
- Sung Through
- Sympathy for the Devil:
- Persephone in "How Long," about both Orpheus (who just wants to see his lover Eurydice again) and Hades (who is tormented by their failed marriage as much as she is).
- Orpheus to Hades in "Epic III", realizing that despite all his wealth and power, the thing Hades most wants and tries so hard for is what he's already lost: his relationship with Persephone.
- Sympathy for the Hero:
- The three fates tell us to not judge Eurydice because she was desperate, and desperate people often do what they need to survive a harsh world.
- Hades does give Orpheus a sporting chance to get his wife back and nullify the contract, since Orpheus's song did reconcile him and Persephone. It's Nothing Personal that he can't look weak in front of his workers, and it's implied he is rooting for Orpheus to actually make it to the surface.
- Take a Third Option: As expressed in "Word to the Wise", if Hades just lets Eurydice go with Orpheus, he looks weak; refusing, however, makes Orpheus a martyr. But, the Fates advise, if he appears to offer mercy while setting Orpheus up to fail, he avoids both traps.
- Tenor Boy: Orpheus.
- Theme Tune Roll Call: "Road to Hell." Anaïs Mitchell commented that Breaking the Fourth Wall and directly introducing all the characters — along with the chorus and the band — to the audience at the top of the show was a very old-school theatrical flourish was one of the things they stole directly from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, along with stealing Amber Gray.
- Triumphant Reprise:
- "Epic III" is the iteration of Orpheus' song in which he finally finishes it and succeeds in touching Hades' heart.
- "Wait For Me (Reprise)" is a triumphal return of Orpheus' desperation in "Wait For Me", with him finally reunited with Eurydice and with the Workers — and Persephone, and Hermes, and even Hades himself — cheering them onto their final escape.
- Although "Road to Hell (Reprise)" starts as a Dark Reprise of "Road to Hell", it metamorphoses into a Triumphant Reprise in its second half, with Hermes proudly and defiantly shouting that even though Orpheus failed at the end, his dream of a better world lives on.
- Villain Love Song: "Hey Little Songbird", in which Hades seduces Eurydice.
- Villainous Lament: "How Long," in which a surprisingly vulnerable Hades shows bitter regret not for his villainous deeds, but for the dysfunctional nature of his marriage. What's tragic is that both Hades and Persephone seem to truly love each other even as that damaged love pains and tortures them.
- Villain Respect: Hades is impressed when he orders his workers to beat up Orpheus, and the boy in response sings a songs that encourages a riot. He says the boy is either brave or stupid.
- Voice of the Legion: Orpheus, to indicate his divine musical talent.
- The Wall Around the World: "Why We Build the Wall" is the classic song about this trope.
- What You Are in the Dark: In "Hey Little Songbird," Hades tempts Eurydice into leaving the man she loves in favor of a safe, comfortable life. She agrees and eventually comes to regret it. The Fates converse about it in "When The Chips Are Down", asserting that Eurydice shouldn't be judged for her choice since most people would've done the same if they'd been in her position.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Eurydice and Orpheus both have elements of this at the start. "Epic, Part Two" and "How Long?" imply that Persephone used to be this, too.
- Women Are Wiser: Eurydice in "Wedding Song", voicing her concerns for Orpheus's monetary situation, and in "Chant", when she's the one who cares about their dwindling stores of food and firewood. Subverted thereafter, as Eurydice's concerns and her overall innocence lead to her seduction and subsequent imprisonment by Hades.
- Wretched Hive: Hadestown.Hermes: Either get to hell or to Hadestown/Ain't no difference any more!
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Hermes tells Orpheus the song he's singing reflects the legend of Hades and Persephone and their love. Since the two "gods" are fighting, the storm has reached the land. Orpheus immediately believes he's a bard in a myth and not a scrabbling young man in a dystopian land; he says he needs to finish his song so that Hades and Persephone will reconcile. A hungry Eurydice, while Orpheus is working, is seduced by Hades.
- You Are Worth Hell: Orpheus travels far and below ground to find Eurydice, even preparing to stay with her in Hadestown if she cannot leave. Hades, however, says that he doesn't want Orpheus in his town, lets the workers beat him up, and threatens to kill him personally.
- You Can't Fight Fate: As Hermes says, the ending never changes, no matter how many times you sing the song. He still tries, though; he tells Orpheus to not neglect Eurydice, warns Eurydice what Hadestown is like, and tries to convince Orpehus to give up Eurydice when she vanishes.
- Your Cheating Heart: Hades and Eurydice maybe slept together after he brings her to Hadestown. He's picked up multiple women this way before and then dropped them cold, according to the chorus.
- You Will Be Spared: In the concept album it's implied that Persephone will keep an eye out for Eurydice and do what she can to help her out of respect for Orpheus. They close out the album at Persephone's speakeasy, mourning Orpheus and his failure.