By C.B. Adams
“It’s an old tale from way back when.”

So states Hermes, the narrator of “Hadestown” at the beginning of this award-winning musical. Hermes is played by native St. Louisan Nathan Lee Graham (an audience fave) who delivers a highly entertaining pastiche that’s Part Zazu, part Ben Vereen, part Joel Grey and part master of ceremony.

“Hadestown,” now playing at the Fox Theater, is indeed an old tale. It’s a dystopian folk opera reboot of a Greek myth, circa 800-900 BCE, by Anais Mitchell (music, book and lyrics), and it’s still potently relevant today, prescient even.

If the idea of attending a modernized Greek tragedy, replete with gods, Fates and Chorus doesn’t entice you, maybe the fact it won eight Tony Awards in 2019, the most awarded show of that season, including Best Musical, will. There’s strength and staying power to the old tales, and this touring company’s production of the travails of Orpheus and Eurydice provides a superlative experience, proving it’s a different kind of marvel universe.

And, no, you don’t need to bone up on your Greek mythology before attending. Hermes, in word and song, guides you through the story.

Hadestown Tour Houston 10-07-22 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson.photoshelter.com

This appraisal of the opening night’s performance at the tightly packed Fox on opening night joins the swelling ranks of this show’s ongoing rave reviews – both the original Broadway and this touring production. It would be easy to state that “Hadestown” checks all the boxes for an excellent show and leave it at that. But if you’re on the bubble about attending, perhaps some additional convincing is in order.

For starters, the score with 31 songs and a reprise is mesmerizing. The songs, whose source was an award-winning 2010 concept album by Mitchell, are tightly paced and intricately braided into the narrative. They have a timelessness about them, blending blues, gospel, ragtime, jazz, folk, and even indie-pop influences. The songs have a definite old-timey vibe with contemporary touches, such as when Persephone uses the phrase “pay per view.” Everyone’s taste differs, but my top-three favorite songs were “Road to Hell,” “Wait for Me,” and “Way Down Hadestown.”

The sound mixing was well-balanced, and vocals were clear and understandable. This is noteworthy because, based on some other recent shows (not necessarily at the Fox), it’s amazing how important good sound is, especially when you’re straining to understand the vocals. Hannah Whitley as Eurydice was a bit too quiet during “Livin’ It Up On Top,” but rallied for the rest of the show with strong vocals and emotion.

Hadestown Tour Houston 10-07-22 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson.photoshelter.com

The set, designed by Rachel Hauck, was perfectly scaled for the Fox’s stage. The set cleverly serves as the entrance to the underworld (Hadestown) and the underworld itself. In the center of the two-story set is a lighted, doorway that opens its maw to swallow or belch forth the actors. The set’s umber- and sepia-tinged palette resonates with the show’s folky, jazz- and creole-influenced music with a blend of French Quarter, 1930s train station and Paris brasserie.

Great theater is all in the details, and one of the best small touches in “Hadestown” was the how various characters interacted with the steampunkish, double-headed microphone. Another terrific touch was flanking the set with members of the seven-piece band on either side (though the percussionist/drummer was offstage). Special note must be made of the performance of Emily Frederickson, who played trombone and glockenspiel (More glockenspiel!) and even danced in a number.

The set was further enhanced with Tony-winning lighting design from Bradley Kind that could be as subtle as it was garish, as when the lights blasted into the audience. Costume design by Michael Krass complemented and mirrored the tarnished atmosphere of Hadestown. The one exception was the silver-spangled vest of Hermes, which he proudly flashed at the opening of the show.

Unlike the devil in other traditions, Hades in both myth and this musical is not a one-dimensional antagonist. Hades has a backstory and earns a begrudging level of respect in his role as leader of the underworld. As voiced and sung by baritone Matthew Patrick Quinn, the stentorian Hades sounded as deep and dark as a coal mine and as ominous as an earthquake.

As played by Chibueze Ihuoma, Orpheus begins as a naïve, somewhat clueless musical prodigy. As his fate becomes intertwined with Eurydice’s, Ihuoma adeptly portrayed Orpheus’ transformation into a mythically tragic figure. Ihuoma has been with the touring company since 2021 and began as a member of the ensemble as a Worker before assuming the Orpheus role in June.

Hadestown Tour Houston 10-07-22 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson.photoshelter.com

This imagining of the Greek tale elevates the female characters. Eurydice here is independent, resilient and self-aware. As Eurydice, Hannah Whitley beautifully voices these characteristics and, like Ihuoma, effectively portrays her character’s inevitable, unstoppable fate.

The upstairs-downstairs character Persephone is onstage for most of the show, and understudy Shea Renne made the most of that opportunity. Whether she’s stomping around during her signature song, “Livin’ It Up On Top,” or idly sitting on the balcony with her husband, Hades, Renne brought vigor and misery in equal measures to her portrayal.

Also strong is the show’s ensemble of actors, dancers and singers in the Fates and Chorus. This ensemble is as vibrant and compelling as the rest of the cast. The Fates in particular were fun to watch as the interacted individually and as a unit with the other characters throughout the performance.  

One of the reasons why some stories endure while others don’t is their adaptability. An ancient Greek would certainly recognize the essence of the Orpheus-Eurydice tale retold in “Hadestown.” Modern audiences can certainly appreciate the Greek tragedy for its ability to affirm life even in the face of suffering. And, for those who miss this opportunity to see “Hadestown,” it would be…well, hell.

Performances of “Hadestown” at the Fabulous Fox run Oct. 11-23. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. Tickets on sale now at MetroTix.com or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com

Hadestown Tour Houston 10-07-22 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcharleserickson.photoshelter.com

By Lynn Venhaus

STAGE: Familiar face in “Hadestown”

It’s opening night for “Hadestown” at the Fabulous Fox! And a St. Louisan, Nathan Lee Graham, is now touring as Hermes, the role originated on Broadway by Tony winner Andre de Shields. The Tony-winning musical – eight awards including Best Musical in 2019 — will play here through Oct. 23.

Forbes Magazine described it as “an epic celebration of music, togetherness and hope.”

I’ll be there tonight, and will talk about the show on KTRS Radio The Big 550 Wednesday at 10:35 a.m. with Wendy Wiese and guest host Cordell Whitlock.

I had the opportunity to interview Graham, a Hazelwood Central and Webster University graduate (Sargent Conservatory), for the Webster-Kirkwood Times. Here is the link:

https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/hadestown-at-the-fox-to-feature-nathan-lee-graham/article_fe6b9586-4586-11ed-b91b-e3769c7fca23.html

Eliza Shlesinger

STREAMING: Funny Girl

“Iliza Shlesinger: Hot Forever” is her sixth Netflix stand-up special now available. The comedian, actress and television host won NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” – the first woman and youngest winner – on NBC in 2008. She’ll be competing in the first “Celebrity Jeopardy!” semifinal on Sunday, too.

Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/pVYImnaQF-Y

Want more? Her specials are “War Paint” in 2013, “Freezing Hot” in 2015, “Confirmed Kills” in 2016, “Elder Millennial” in 2018, and “Unveiled” in 2019.

TV: Not Ready for Prime Time

On this day in 1975, the late-night comedy sketch and variety show “Saturday Night” premiered with George Carlin as the celebrity host from Studio 8H at the NBC Studios in New York City. There were two musical guests – Janis Ian and Billy Preston. The name would be changed to “Saturday Night Live,” and SNL became a late-night institution and captured the pop culture zeitgeist with catch phrases and iconic characters.

Now in its 48th season, there have been 932 episodes. Lorne Michaels is the current executive producer, having his first run from 1975 to 1980, then returned in 1985.

SNL has won 87 Emmy Awards from 252 Primetime Emmy nominations, the most received by any television program. In TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, it is ranked 10th.

Fun Fact: I have seen every episode since that first one, watching the show with my college roommates and then-boyfriend at my first apartment in Normal, Ill., senior year at Illinois State University. The show was such a hit, bars in town would have it on TVs, and if you were at a party, everyone would stop to watch it. Thanks to VHS tapes and DVRs, I’m able to keep up with the show, even if I did not watch it live.

FOOD: St Louis Taco Week!

Not just for Taco Tuesday but more! This week, Oct. 10-16, will showcase $5 taco specials at 35 participating restaurants.

Each restaurateur and chef will prepare their unique take with a taco special. Pick up a Taco Passport — participants will get stamped at participating locations throughout the week. Collect at least 4 stamps and be eligible for a very special grand prize drawing as well as smaller prizes.

For more info: https://stltacoweek.com/

PLAYLIST: In memory of Angela Lansbury

Today, one of the great actresses of stage and screen passed on at age 96. Mame, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, The Beauty and the Beast, The Manchurian Candidate and Murder, She Wrote – and on and on. She had 5 Tony Awards, three Oscar nominations, and so many other awards and nominations.

Here is her obituary:

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/angela-lansbury-dead-murder-she-wrote-1235239215/

Here is her Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2000:
https://youtu.be/3gsMZx2eCXk

Here is one of her most iconic performances as Mrs. Potts in “The Beauty and The Beast”:

Word: “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” (SNL)

“When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges.”

By Lynn Venhaus

LIVE STREAMING: NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test Spacecraft (DART)

DART is set to collide with a small asteroid that is the moon of a larger space rock, Dimorphos. NASA launched the DART mission last year to see if this technique could one day be used for planetary defense.

DART is set to crash into Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour at 6:14 p.m. Central time on Monday.

NASA Television will broadcast coverage of the end of this mission beginning at 5 p.m. You can watch it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg

If you want to watch a stream of photos from the spacecraft as it closes in on the asteroid, NASA’s media channel will begin broadcasting those at 4:30 p.m. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA9UZF-SZoQ

From the New York Times:

The DART mission isn’t like the movie “Armageddon.” Blowing up an asteroid generally would not be a good thing to do. Rather, the mission is a proof-of-principle demonstration that hitting an oncoming asteroid with a projectile can nudge it into a different orbit.

For a dangerous oncoming asteroid, that nudge could be enough to change the trajectory from a direct hit to a near miss.


TV: “tasteMAKERS,” PBS Nine, 8 p.m.

In an hour-long documentary, “Winemaking in Missouri: A Well-Cultivated History,” Emmy-winning producer and host Catherine Neville (cover photo, above) dives deep to uncover the roots of one of the U.S.’s most storied wine regions, which at one time was the second largest wine—producing state in the country.

The documentary traces the nearly 200-year history of Missouri’s rich winemaking past and discusses its present as one of the state’s leading industries.

The series “Taste Makers” explores the local food movement, and the show can also be found on Amazon Prime.

(Besides Monday, it will be on Sept. 27 at 10 p.m., Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m., and Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. on Nine PBS)

A Chorus Line at Stages St. Louis. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

LIVE THEATRE: “A Chorus Line,” Stages St. Louis, Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
Stages St. Louis closes out its ground-breaking 36th season with “A Chorus Line,” ending on Oct. 9. The show is not performed on Mondays, but you can see it Tuesday through Sunday (with 2 shows on Wednesday, a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show). It’s directed by Stages’ artistic director Gayle Seay, who knows that story well – she’s appeared in Broadway shows and on tour, including several stints in “A Chorus Line.”

Here is my review in the Webster-Kirkwood Times: https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/a-vibrant-theater-masterpiece/article_83dc9972-3a8d-11ed-8b9c-ff2eebcd1693.ht

Tasty: Sugar Fire Smokehouse is celebrating its 10th anniversary

In a space in a strip center in Olivette on Sept. 26, 2012, Charlie Downs and chef Mike Johnson opened Sugarfire Smoke House, and it didn’t take long before the lines formed.

They eventually opened 12 more in Missouri and Illinois, and have three more in Colorado, Iowa and Texas. To see the locations and hours, visit: https://sugarfiresmokehouse.com/locations/

Their RIBBLE ME THIS special today had pulled rib, mac and cheese, fried pickles, and honey badger sauce in a flour tortilla.

Check out their Facebook page and Instagram for their daily specials and what’s happening.

ON THIS DAY: “West Side Story” debuts at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1957

The Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Jerome Robbins’ musical “West Side Story” premiered in Broadway. The original, directed and choreographed by Robbins, was Sondheim’s Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances before going on tour.

Nominated for six Tony Awards, it won two (lost to “The Music Man” for Best Musical).
It ran in London’s West End, has had a number of revivals. The 1961 movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 10. The 2021 film, nominated for seven Oscars, features Oscar winner Adriana DeBose as Anita.

Spielberg’s film is currently available streaming on HBOMax.

Fun Fact: The 2021 film features several Muny alums, including:  Sean Harrison Jones as Action (Mike in “A Chorus Line” 2016, “Newsies” 2016); Jonalyn Saxer (Peggy Sawyer in 2017’s “42nd Street”); Eloise Krupp (Minnie Faye in 2014’s “Hello, Dolly!”); Halli Toland (), Kyle Coffman (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”2021, “Newsies”2016, “West Side Story” 2013); Garrett Hawe (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”2021) and Gaby Diaz (“West Side Story” 2013.

My review of 2021 “West Side Story”:  https://www.poplifestl.com/west-side-story-brims-with-vitality/

Playlist: TV Theme Songs

The popular sitcoms “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1962, featuring Belleville’s own Buddy Ebsen), “Gilligan’s Island” (1964) and “The Brady Bunch” (1969) premiered today. Their theme songs are among the most iconic. Here they are:

The Beverly Hillbillies: https://youtu.be/OvE9zJgm8OY

Gilligan’s Island: (Second season here) https://youtu.be/-fqXcKFg08w

The Brady Bunch: https://youtu.be/d2JooUMsDdA

Paul Newman

Words for Today
From Paul Newman, who died on this date in 2008 at age 83:
“If you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.”