Way down, Hadestown

Recently I was able to see the musical Hadestown. Ok, to be more specific I went to see Hadestown on a Saturday as part of my Broadway Philadelphia subscription and then I got rush tickets and went again on Wednesday. I listened to the full soundtrack at least 8 times between Saturday and Wednesday’s show and there are a handful of songs I listened to (ok belted out) at least 50 times. This is not hyperbole, I am officially obsessed with this musical. Now I was a kid who did community theatre and I majored in music in undergrad so it’s not exactly unusual for me to geek out over a musical but this one was particularly captivating.

In the opening number the narrator sings, “It’s a sad song, it’s a tragedy, but we’re gonna sing it anyway.” This line is then repeated in the closing number. After my husband died I was terrified of becoming a sad story. And now this Tony Award winning musical is parading a sad story right out in front of everyone. What!? How can this be? Because sad stories are worth telling. They are rich and profound and so deeply human. I was terrified of becoming a sad story because I thought a sad story was something easily discarded. Who would be interested in a sad story? Turns out, sad stories win Tony’s. Sad stories sell out crowds. Sad stories drag a teacher out past 11 pm on a school night because they had to see it again. It’s a tragedy. But we’re gonna sing it anyway.

One of the best things about this show is that I loved every song but there were also lines that just jumped out at me and it’s those lines I want to talk about here. I’ll do my best to avoid super spoilers; but, to be fair, the show is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus (yes, it’s literally a Greek tragedy) soo I’m not sure you can spoil something that’s over a thousand years old. This show does a masterful job embracing the both/and. They toast, ‘To the world we dream about and the one we live in now.’ They sing, “It’s an old song but they’re gonna sing it again…It’s a sad song but we’re gonna sing it anyway. ” It’s the most human of stories told through the lens of gods and demi gods. It has both romance and tragedy, failure and success, grief and hope. This is exactly what life after loss looks like-it is the both/and.

Then they hit you with this line, “Cause, here’s 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” What a testament to grace, to the human spirit. That is a huge kudos to anyone who has ever experienced loss then opened their heart to love again. I’ve written before how I hate the ‘you’re so strong’ comments, but this is different. This is the strength. To know how it ends and still begin to sing it again-that’s exactly what people are admiring. The tenacity it requires to know how it ends and still begin to sing again.

I went to see this show knowing nothing about it (because there is nothing like hearing a story, beautifully told, live for the very first time-that is a rejuvenating experience). I was so caught up in the music that I missed the line in the first song saying it’s a tragedy-oops. But a few songs in I started to suspect this might be sad. At intermission I turned to my friend and said, “wait is this sad?” To his credit, he tried very hard to kindly say, “Umm well it is based on a tragedy so…” To which I said, “but could it be happy?” After a long pause he said, ‘Well they do a good job turning it around at the end.” At intermission I didn’t know what he meant by that. But that’s exactly what they do. They don’t try to pretend that the story wasn’t sad, they don’t bright side it, or say ‘at least..’ or harp on the ‘lessons learned.’ Instead, they choose to sing again. They choose to embrace the hope that not every story is sad. They know how it ends, or how it could end, and they sing it again.

Anyone who has ever endured a loss gets a huge validation at the end. The characters are raising a toast-in stunning harmonies, and this is what they toast to:

Some birds sing when the sun shines bright
My praise is not for them
But the one who sings in the dead of night
I raise my cup to him

Some flowers bloom when the green grass grows
My praise is not for them
But the one who blooms in the bitter snow
I raise my cup to him

Shut up! Shut all the way up!! Are you kidding me!!?? I’m sobbing. I’m obsessed. I’m overwhelmed. As they sung these lines I felt such a surge of gratitude. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for validating my sad story. Thank you for acknowledging the effort it takes to know sorrow and not become bitter. Thank you for championing a sad story. For proving sad stories are worth telling.

You can listen to Hadestown here, and I would highly recommend that you do-the music is just incredible and the quotes discussed above are just a small taste of what this musical has to offer. I didn’t even mention my favorite song, Wait for Me. Once you’ve listened I would love to hear your thoughts-drop a comment here or on the Instagram!

5 thoughts on “Way down, Hadestown

  1. I have been fascinated by Hadestown since it swept the Tonys- it is coming to my hometown in November of this year, so hopefully will go. I love Greek Mythology- one of the reasons why I am interested in this musical

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  2. What Would Jesus have to say?

    By the time of the birth of Christ, the classic Greek tragedy canon had been in wide circulation in the Roman world. 400 for so years from Orpheus to Bethlehem 4BC. The same space of time that separates our time, from the prime of Shakespeare and his body of work. The arts and theater were highly subsidized by Rome, and a ticket to the one of the largest Roman theaters in the ancient world in Caesarea, only about 30 miles from Nazareth, was only about $10 in modern money. I am sure many, many of the original audience for Jesus’ teaching knew the Greek plays very well. Having stood in its ruins, the stage and seating, over 2,000 years old are still used in Israel today. Saw the rock band Journey play there in ’98. Steve Perry had left the group by then.

    Point being, the Bible is silent about the life of Christ from about age 12 to about 30. Almost 20 years, what exactly was he doing? Likely taking care of his mother and brothers I am sure, but also likely seeing the classics Electra, Orpheus, which were surely staged close to his home. Again, Jesus did not invent the literary device of the parable, the classic parables of morality, judgement, success, failure, faith, the good and the bad were all present in any ancient Greek story. And that was the intent of the Lord. Communication of the Kingdom of God via a story, a drama which all could understand and tie into. As Plato, Aristotle, and the classical Greeks sought to instruct through theirs.

    This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. A story if we care to follow it, has all the elements of what would seem to be a tragedy. Loneliness, rejection, abandonment by friends, injustices, a meal, betrayal. death. That is where most if not all Greek tragedies come to an end. Curtain falls, stage the singers. But the story does not end there. As we all know. The Greeks could quite never figure out, life from death. The empty tomb. That’s what Jesus would have say, about Orpheus, Hadestown, anything else we can figure up. The story is not over, yet.

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