BWW Reviews: Ain't it Good! CHILDREN OF EDEN IN CONCERT at the Kennedy Center
Easily one of Stephen Schwartz's most lush and beautiful scores, Children of Eden landed on stage at Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre for one night only this past Monday.
With one of the most interesting genesis stories of it's own, Children of Eden was originally commissioned as a spectacle piece (along the lines of a Radio City Christmas Spectacular). While building the piece, it became more of an oratorio performed by small church groups and finally landed at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey, where it received a cast recording that helped the popularity of the show. The piece then became one of the most frequently licensed titles by Music Theatre International.
About ten years ago, a stupid young kid who had no idea what he was doing thought it would be a good idea to rent out New York City's Riverside Cathedral and produce and direct the first full New York concert production of Children of Eden as a World AIDS Day benefit. Happily, Stephen Schwartz allowed it and to this day is one of the things I'm proudest of. Which is my way of telling you I'm extremely biased and you should take anything I have to say with a heavy dose of salt.
Children of Eden tells the familiar biblical stories of Adam & Eve in the first act and winds up the second act with Noah and the ark. There are very strong themes that already exist in these stories, but Schwartz and bookwriter John Caird mirror the ideas of choice, failure and redemption throughout the piece. Though the book and score are not heavy-handed, the source material certainly is. Schwartz and Caird created a beautiful piece with themes that resonate with anyone.
One night concerts are a huge challenge to pull off. It take months of work to organize, extraordinarily limited rehearsal time with folks who are scheduling outside of other rehearsals and performances - it can be a nightmare. But somehow magically, the night happens and something beautiful takes place.
I'd say with a good show, casting is 70% of good directing. With a one-night concert where you have hours, not weeks for rehearsal, it's 95%. You need folks who can be nearly performance-ready from the first rehearsal. With few exceptions, this is where director Marcia Migrom Dodge made her best choices.
The Kennedy Center concert, utilizing stunning orchestrations from a recent German production, boasted a 40-piece orchestra and the 50-person National Broadway Chorus (including several students from the Howard University Choir).
As I mentioned, casting is vital when putting together an event with such little rehearsal time. The greatest examples of this were in Ashley Brown (Broadway's Mary Poppins) as Eve/Mama Noah and Jeremy Jordan (NBC's Smash, Newsies) as Cain/Japheth. Brown brought the curiosity and innocence necessary for Eve as well as the warmth and vulnerability Mama Noah needs in guiding her husband and leading her brood through the storm. Jordan, with a vocal richness of a classic Broadway baritone, but the range of a rock star tenor, stopped the show with his "Lost in the Wilderness." His seemingly perpetual look of concern (which those familiar with his performance in SMASH will recognize), at points makes you want to side with the guy who killed his brother.
Other standouts include Rebecca Naomi Jones as Yonah and Charl Brown as Adam/Father Noah. The role of Father (God), is a tricky one and requires perhaps the largest leaps for an actor. At times, he's depicted as the fire-and-brimstone type of God you'd recognize from some Evangelical churches, and by the end, he needs to be nearly human, making human mistakes and recognizing that. Ron Bohmer (sporting a hooded cloak reminiscent of a scene from Rocky), brought his soaring baritone. Unfortunately though, the Garden of Eden God seemed so petulant, I too would have gone running from Eden. Bohmer never really left that space and therefore the important transition into a God that would deliver an olive branch signaling the end of the flood, felt abrupt and unnatural (that also could have been the powerpoint projection of the dove that came just a little too late, but I digress).
As I'd mentioned, it's a miracle when someone can make these concerts happen. And judging from the enthusiastic standing ovation following the show, the DC theatre going crowd appreciated the opportunity to hear this score sung so beautifully. Rumors are flying around that there may be a Broadway future finally for Children of Eden. I only hope it captures the simplicity of these stories and allows Schwartz's score to do most of the work for itself.