When one thinks of Stephen Schwartz, the lyricist and composer of theater titles “Godspell,” “Pippin,” and “Wicked,” or the films “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Enchanted” come to mind. How about “Children of Eden”? Probably not.
Yet, in 1991 Schwartz did pen that show. Why isn’t it commonly identified with this prolific tunesmith award winner? It was one of Schwartz’s few flops.
“Children of Eden” is a two-act musical, with a book by John Caird. The first act is based on the Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel tales from the Book of Genesis. The second act deals with Noah and the flood.
Originally written under the title “Family Tree” for a production by Youth Sing Praise, a religious-oriented high school theater camp, it was later adapted into a full-length musical intended for commercial use, with its new “Children of Eden” title.
It opened in January of 1991 and closed in April of that year in London’s West End. Poor reviews sealed its fate. Interestingly, though it has not been revived for professional productions, it has become a staple for community and educational theatres.
Though Schwartz’s music is fine, it’s the book that pales. The first act is the better written of the two.
The story generally holds the attention as God creates and then warns Adam and Eve not to be tempted to eat from the tree of life. The all questioning Eve breaks the rules and the duo, along with their children, Cain and Abel, are sent from the Garden of Eden to wander in the wilderness. Cain eventually kills Abel, is marked with the “sign of Cain,” and sin and destruction follow.
The second act tells of Noah’s building of the Ark and the killing off of those not thought worthy of continuing to inhabit the earth. It is filled with many innocuous lines and situations that defy smooth story-telling.
Artistic director Terri Kent has let all her creative talents fly in staging The Kent State University School of Theatre and Dance production. She is ably assisted by MaryAnn Black, whose innovative choreography helps create moving pictures. Ben Needham's original scenic designs, three constantly moving steel pipe scaffolds, and building blocks whose sides are painted with pictures that depict various visuals as they are assembled and disassembled, create all the needed images from the ark, to animals, to the tree of life
The cast, under the musical direction of Jennifer Korecki, sings well. The solos are strong and the choral blends are clearly in-tune. The orchestra nicely underscores, rather than drowning out the singers, as is more and more common in many musicals.
In the first act, Fred Rose creates a strong yet loving Father (God). He has a strong singing voice and nicely interprets his lines. Devon Pfeiffer and Merrie Drees are charming as Adam and Eve. Each has a fine singing voice and creates a realistic character. Mason Henning shines as Cain. The young man sings and moves with confidence, displaying strong talent. His “Lost in the Wilderness (Reprise) is one of the show’s finest vocals. Adam Kirk does a nice turn as Abel.
The first act ends with the show’s highlight, “Children of Eden.”
In the second act Clinton Owens develops a believable Noah. Montria Walker whales as Mama Noah. Her “Spark of the Skies” and powerful solo in “In the Beginning” are showstoppers.
Capsule judgment: “Children of Eden” gets a strong production due to creative staging, innovative choreography, fine singing, and an effective set design. The production, which far exceeds the mediocre book, is an excellent showcase for the Kent State musical theater program students.
“Children of Eden” runs in the E. Turner Stump Theatre on the Kent State University main campus through November 11. For tickets call 330-672-ARTS or go on-line to http://www.kent.edu/theatredance