Guide to 'Hadestown' in the West End

This Greek mythology musical has performed for four years and counting on Broadway — learn more about its success and what to expect when it returns to London.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Get ready to journey way down, as Anaïs Mitchell’s mythic musical Hadestown paves its road to Hell right into the West End. This hugely anticipated revival of the Tony and Grammy-winning show comes five years after its U.K. premiere at the National Theatre, with the musical now moving across London to the Lyric Theatre from February 2024.

Inspired by the ancient Greek myth about doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice, Mitchell’s show began life back in 2006 in Vermont and has since journeyed to New York and South Korea. British audiences warmly received the show when it played here in 2018, starring Amber Gray, Patrick Page, Eva Noblezada, Reeve Carney, and André De Shields.

Next year, more audiences will descend into the underworld for this epic tale of love and loss, power and politics, and despair and hard-won hope. Read on for our guide to this incredible show ahead of its London return.

The Orpheus and Eurydice story

To find Hadestown's true beginnings, you have to go back circa 530 BC, when the Greek lyric poet Ibycus set down what is likely the earliest account of Orpheus and Eurydice. This tragic love story features the talented musician Orpheus, who was descended from the god Apollo and the muse Calliope, and whose singing and playing on the lyre was so enchanting that mortals, divinities, and even the natural world loved hearing him.

Orpheus falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, and the pair marry. However, she dies by snakebite soon afterward. Orpheus, who is protected by the gods, descends into the underworld to find her. He charms the three-headed dog Cerberus with his music, and he reaches the god of the underworld, Hades, and his wife Persephone. (The myth of how she lives in the underworld for half the year — during fall and winter — and on Earth the other half — in spring and summer — factors into Hadestown, too.)

Hades agrees Eurydice can follow him back into the world of the living, but on one strict condition: He cannot turn to look back at her. But Orpheus, either out of doubt or a desperate desire to see her again (accounts differ), turns around – and so Eurydice is trapped in the underworld forever.

Orpheus is then killed himself, either by wild beasts or by the Maenads (raving followers of Dionysus), but his head, still singing, and his lyre float to the island of Lesbos. The Muses lift his lyre into the sky to become a constellation. Meanwhile, Orpheus’s soul finally reunites with Eurydice’s in the underworld.

This powerful tale has inspired countless works of art, including poems by Virgil, Rilke, and Carol Ann Duffy; narrative retellings by Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman; plays by Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, and Sarah Ruhl, films by Jean Cocteau and Jacques Demy; operas by Monteverdi, Offenbach, and Gluck; ballets by Balanchine and Ninette de Valois; songs by Sara Bareilles and Hozier; and paintings by Titian, Poussin, and Corot.

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What is Hadestown about?

Mitchell’s version is a loose adaptation of the original Orpheus and Eurydice tale. The action now takes place in a post-apocalyptic vision of New Orleans’s French Quarter – which means the score is a beguiling mix of blues, jazz, gospel, swing, and folk. There’s strange weather and famine; the show has a definite climate crisis element.

Musician Orpheus, who is the ward of the god Hermes, falls for Eurydice. She shares his feelings but worries about how they’ll survive. Meanwhile, Persephone celebrates her visit to the world above before Hades comes to drag her back to his underground factory, Hadestown. A starving, desperate Eurydice is seduced by the opportunities of Hadestown, urged on by Hades and the Fates, and she becomes a worker. Eurydice realises, too late, that she’s trapped, and Orpheus journeys to Hadestown to save her.

The origins of Hadestown

The acclaimed singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell developed her folk-opera version of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, Hadestown, over a decade. Its first performance took place in Barre and Vergennes, in Vermont, in 2006, and went on a mini-tour around Vermont and Massachusetts starring local artists.

Mitchell then released a concept album in 2010, featuring Mitchell herself, Justin Vernon (of the Wisconsin band Bon Iver), Ani DiFranco, and the Haden Triplets, with arrangements by Michael Chorney.

Next to come on board was the innovative director Rachel Chavkin, a Tony Award nominee for her phenomenal production of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Chavkin aided Mitchell in strengthening Hadestown as a stage musical, adding 15 new songs and developing the plot and dialogue.

This version of Hadestown premiered off Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, starring Damon Daunno (Orpheus), Nabiyah Be (Eurydice), Amber Gray (Persephone), and Patrick Page (Hades). An EP then came out, followed by a full cast album the next year. Already, Hadestown was acquiring a large and impassioned following.

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Hadestown in London and on Broadway

The show had its pre-Broadway run at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Canada, in 2017, directed by Chavkin and once again featuring Gray and Page alongside Reeve Carney as Orpheus. Instead of going directly to Broadway, it first travelled to London, playing in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre from 2018-19.

Once again, Page and Gray reprised their performances, as did Carney. They were joined by Eva Noblezada (best known for playing Kim in the West End revival of Miss Saigon), André De Shields, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Gloria Onitiri, and Rosie Fletcher. The show was a big hit with London audiences.

Hadestown then headed back over the pond for its Broadway premiere at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2019, featuring the majority of the lead cast from the National Theatre run. It drew strong reviews and became a hugely popular show; even amid a Covid hiatus, Hadestown became the Walter Kerr’s longest-running show in January 2023.

The Broadway production of Hadestown was nominated for 14 Tony Awards and won eight of them, including Best Musical, Best Direction for Chavkin and Best Original Score for Mitchell. The show also won the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

What can you expect from Hadestown in the West End?

In February 2024, Hadestown finally makes its West End premiere at London’s Lyric Theatre. This will be the newest version of the show, featuring tweaks from the Broadway run, so it's well worth catching even if you saw Hadestown at the National Theatre.

Director Chavkin's Tony-winning and -nominated team includes Rachel Hauck on set design, Michael Krass on costumes, Bradley King on lighting, David Neumann on choreography, and Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz on sound. Together, they ensure that Hadestown isn’t just musically ravishing, but a truly unique spectacle.

Casting is yet to be announced, but we’ll surely be raising our cups to some exciting musical theatre performers, given the show’s dazzling history and the strength of the material. Keep your eye out for when Hadestown tickets go on sale, so you can be livin’ it up on top come the spring.

Photo credit: Hadestown on Broadway. (Photos courtesy of production)

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