And wide-eyed Orpheus, in love with Eurydice and in search of a song beautiful enough to bring “the world back into tune,” becomes a rabble-rousing climate activist. Sure, he’s naive, but in the words of his guardian, Hermes, he has a gift for seeing what the world could be. “What’s the purpose of a man, just to turn his eyes away?” the boy asks the factory line of indentured workers. “What’s the use of his backbone, if he never stands upright?” Orpheus sets out to retrieve Eurydice from Hadestown—and stand up to the hard-hearted greed and heavy-handed control Hades has mistaken for love and protection.
More than a decade in the making, Hadestown was first a DIY community theater project in Vermont and then a concept album that went viral back in 2010. More recently, it debuted as an Off Broadway hit at the New York Theater Workshop in 2016 and opened at the National Theatre in London last fall. As the show developed over the years, its central question—whether we will do enough to save the planet (and ourselves)—has become ever more urgent. Just weeks before Hadestown premiered abroad, one of the strongest hurricanes on record slammed into Florida’s Panhandle. Soon after, the Camp Fire ripped through the California town of Paradise, becoming the most deadly and destructive wildfire in the state’s history. Meanwhile, the world’s hyper-polarized politicians have turned, you might say, nearly mythic—dividing themselves down the age-old dichotomies of right and wrong, good and evil.
Mitchell has proved herself uncannily prescient. The call-and-response song she wrote more than a decade ago is called “Why We Build the Wall.” Hades asks his workers, “Who do we call the enemy, my children, my children?” to which they reply, “The enemy is poverty, and we build the wall to keep us free.” Mitchell writes in the Huffington Post: “People began to ask if it was written in response to the Trump campaign, when in reality, both Trump and the song were simply tapping into the same folk archetypes.”