When I got my hands on a copy of Anaïs Mitchell’s cameo-laced Hadestown album earlier this year, my brain immediately lightbulbed that the only chance of seeing this genre-bending folk-rock opera was Santa Barbara’s Sings Like Hell series, where quality music meets serious storytelling in a reliably fantastic way. Less than a year later, founder Peggie Jones—her body abuzz with a dress once worn to the Grammys, her hair lit up like a lantern—was welcoming the 14-piece operation to the Lobero stage, seasonally replete with Christmas trees, both ornamented and naturally sprawling.
Mitchell—dressed casually in a gray sweatshirt top, black tights, and blood-colored boots—brushed her bleached blonde hair back before beginning to sing in her Joanna Newsom-without-a-harp voice, a shared trait we should all applaud. The only deviation from the album—aside from different, although thoroughly satisfying voices playing some parts—turned out to be her occasional explanations of the underlying storyline to Hadestown, which relays a mythical Greek love story set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic American worker town. It was enlightening, and the resulting show was nothing short of beautiful.
Backed by a ridiculously capable string section, percussion that hit the mark, and “the Fates” three-woman chorus—all laced together with the guitar of composer Michael Chorney—Mitchell’s role of Eurydice was surrounded by Sean Hayes as Orpheus (whose sweet singing could indeed milk virgin breasts), Thao Nguyen as Persephone (such a sultry lounge singer!), and John Elliott as Hades (taking the unenviable replacement role for the album’s gutturally throated Greg Brown, but succeeding with ease). Among other highlights were the lively, Fates-focused “When the Chips Are Down” and a stirring presentation of “Why We Build the Wall,” which gets my vote for most political song of the year, with its “Who do we call the enemy? / The enemy is poverty / And the wall keeps out the enemy / And we build the wall to keep us free.”
Altogether—including an encore by Mitchell and Chorney of a new, unrelated song—the show ran a mere 90 minutes, but it was Hadestown in Hell, and it was nothing less than sizzling.