Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown

Plume. Oct. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780593182574. pap. $16. THEATER
Retelling the Greek myth of naive yet earnest Orpheus and tough yet vulnerable Eurydice, Hadestown opened on Broadway to critical acclaim in 2019. In a series of short chapters, singer, songwriter, and playwright Mitchell movingly traces the history of the musical as it evolved from a community project in Vermont in 2016–17 to a 2010 concept album followed by productions off-Broadway (2016), at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre (2017), and at London’s National Theatre (2018) before its Broadway debut. By sharing her songwriting process, Mitchell offers fascinating details behind each lyric, verse, and song, and explains how noteworthy songs such as “Wait for Me” and “Why We Build the Wall” have progressed in each production. In between these anecdotes, she explores other central characters, including Hades and Persephone in the underworld, as well as Hermes, conductor of both souls and the story. In Mitchell’s words, Hadestown is a musical of metaphors with elements of surprise and change; the lack of a resolution in a musical that balances seriousness and humor allows audiences to fill in the blanks.
VERDICT Fans of Hadestown, especially, will gain a better understanding of Mitchell’s lyricism, while theater lovers, generally, will appreciate insight into the dramaturgy. A captivating read.

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