Omaha gets a glimpse of the underworld

Katie Ribbens–Staff Writer

Smoke rose from the darkness. Flashing lights blinded onlookers. Groans from the afflicted mirrored the discordant scene. That, and some Broadway folk music. 

The musical Hadestown showed at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha, Nebraska, March 29 to April 3. The Broadway show drew inspiration from Greek mythology.

The play opened by introducing Orpheus and Eurydice, who promptly fell in love. Orpheus, the son of a muse, promised Eurydice he would use his gift of songwriting to bring back Spring. 

While Hades and Persephone once enjoyed a loving relationship, their marital strife caused the world to fall out of tune. Ever since Hades prevented Persephone from returning from the Underworld, humanity suffered long, harsh winters.

The Fates never strayed far from Eurydice and symbolized many hardships. Eurydice, afraid to fall back into a life of suffering, made a deal with the devil: She agreed to go with Hades to the Underworld to be free of despair. Orpheus attempted a mad rescue attempt and, in doing so, reminded Hades and Persephone of their love. 

While this action brought the world back into tune, the Underworld still separated Orpheus and Eurydice. Hades agreed to let them both leave under one condition: Eurydice would follow behind Orpheus while they walked out of hell, but he must not look behind him to see if she followed. If he did, she would be damned to the Underworld forever.

Hermes, god of messengers, narrated the entire story through song and dance. The technical elements of the show – the swinging lights, the rotating stage, the smoke – effectively placed the audience into a different world. 

The producers of Hadestown made the nontraditional choice to place an onstage band, complete with an accordion, to accompany the actors. Although the production claimed a small cast, their talent rivaled that of larger companies.  

Contributed Photo

Dordt University student Sarah Goetsch watched the performance on April 3.

“I’ve been waiting to see it for so long,” Goetsch said. “It was everything I expected and more.”

Goetsch is pursuing a theater minor at Dordt has acted in some of the university’s productions. She discovered Hadestown over a year ago and bought tickets for the show in December. Goetsch previously watched Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater. She appreciated the depth  her experience and education offered her while watching these musicals. She spotted the intentional choices of lighting, symbolism, and choreography.

“There’s a lot of stuff that happens that people don’t see,” Goetsch said. “I didn’t really appreciate all the technical theater until I came to Dordt.”

Goetsch valued the jazz music employed in Hadestown. As a member of the jazz band at Dordt, she enjoys the music style and acknowledges its influence on her.

The use of the rotating stage in Hadestown imparted haunting visual effects and allowed the actors to move without walking off the stage. As fog erased Eurydice from view, the stage backlit Orpheus to emphasize his doubt that he walked alone. It built tension as the audience understood Eurydice walked behind him as he left the Underworld, but Orpheus did not. He battled the temptation to turn around and discover if he had been tricked.

One of Goetsch’s favorite scenes included the rotating stage. The chant of the workers in the Underworld employed the use of lights and jerky dance motions to portray their servitude to King Hades. 

“It’s a way to keep the focus in the center and keep the actor moving at the same time,” Goetsch said. 

Laurel Koerner, professor of theatre arts at Dordt, viewed the arts as an opportunity for growth. 

“The arts activate a dimension of ourselves that we’re designed to exercise,” Koerner said. “Through classes and participation, as makers and as audience members, we grow in our capacity to engage the arts; in so doing, we become more fluent, discerning, and adept.”  

She wants to see more students create original works of theater at Dordt and in the community. She also believes Christians should be encouraged to have a deeper appreciation for the arts.

“We can help create the conditions for encounters with truth – a need we all have and never grow out of,” Koerner said.

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