BWW Interview: Brad Raymond Brings an Age-Old Character to Life in CHILDREN OF EDEN at Aurora Theatre
In Aurora Theatre's latest musical production, Brad Raymond plays not just an iconic "father" character, but the father of father characters. With a challenging vocal range akin to the grandeur of opera, CHILDREN OF EDEN's Raymond is portraying God. No pressure...
The Stephen Schwartz (WICKED, GODSPELL, PIPPIN) musical retells familiar Judeo-Christian stories with an emphasis on the relationships among the well-known, albeit underdeveloped Biblical characters, enriching them with details and scenes the Bible does not flesh out. This narrative sees a Father eager to protect but hesitant to trust. Under the direction of Justin Anderson, Raymond has focused on respecting the iconic nature of his character while drawing out his similarities to human fathers. Below, check out the star's take on Schwartz's lesser-known show, the challenges of such a demanding role, and more!
It's so great to get to chat with you today about CHILDREN OF EDEN! How has it been going so far?
I've been telling my friends this has been such a good experience! This is my first time working with the Aurora. I was never able to work with them before because I live so far away in Newnan, but now they have the artist housing, and I'm able to stay over here.
What can you tell me about this show?
I think it's a really beautiful musical. I love Stephen Schwartz. He is a treasure. What he and the bookwriter have done with the show is amazing. They've taken the first few books of the Old Testament and created an allegory for family dynamics, relationships, and community. I think they've done it in a really smart way. They bring these Old Testament characters to life by weaving in the parts of the story that are missing so that we get some insight into the inner workings of each of the characters. They even add a couple characters that might not have necessarily been in the Biblical story.
They do all of that for the purpose of creating an allegory that speaks to us in contemporary times about how we learn from each other, how we learn and grow within families, the things parents get right and the things parents get wrong while being stubborn or short-sighted in some ways.
In rehearsal, we discussed this poem from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran where he says that your children are not your children, but they are the essence of life coming through you. Basically it's saying you are the steward of your children's lives, not the owner of their lives, and that's one of the points made in this musical.
That sounds really powerful. How do you feel like they make that point in this musical particularly?
There's a difficult, complicated dynamic with him, Adam, and Eve. God the Father, who is never expressly called "God" at any point, though it's very clear that's who the character is, is referred to as "Father." He wants to create a world for them, Eden, in which they don't have to think about anything or worry about anything and have everything provided for them. Initially Father doesn't see that as a way of being controlling. He sees it as a way of keeping them safe, as so often our parents do. They're attempting to keep us safe, but in actuality they end up stifling us.
But Eve still manages to be curious and ends up asking "What's here? Why do we do the same thing every day? What's beyond this?" That's a theme that keeps recurring, "What's beyond what we see?" which is the natural curiosity of children. They want to know why. And God, in his efforts to keep them safe tries to suppress that need to know why. What's beautiful about this story too is that not only do the human beings learn, evolve, and grow, but God learns, evolves, and grows. He comes to understand, "I can't control everything for you. That's not the way to keep you safe. The best thing to do is to teach you and provide for you and let you grow on your own."
And what a role for you to get to play!
Yeah, I'm really excited about it! It has so much great music. I get to really sing and open up and wail [laughs]. There are lots of high notes, so I'm getting to work another part of my voice. This is probably the most musically challenged I've been in a while. It's not an easy role to sing. The high notes are very high, and the low notes are very low. You have to have the range. And then there's a lot of strong, powerful singing that he's written for this character, which is to be expected. You're playing God, so you'd think that he would have a lot of strong and powerful notes. It's also a challenge in terms of acting. Justin [Anderson], the director and I have been exploring ways in which we can see this iconic depiction of God without being stereotypical.
I love that phrasing, doing it in an iconic way but not stereotypical. What a challenge!
It is a challenge! But I hope the choices we have made have really helped us to accomplish that. There's a mixture of traditional Judeo-Christian ideas with more eastern ideas, in terms of the costume and set design, and I sort of picked up on that, and I explored some things in terms of incorporating Eastern depictions of divinity into how I communicate with the other characters, particularly in terms of physical gestures and movement.
And CHILDREN OF EDEN is not that well known, but it sounds like it should be. What would you say to theatre fans who aren't familiar with this show who might be interested in seeing it?
It's Stephen Schwartz, and that's a good bet to begin with. It's some of his best music, and that's definitely a reason to go. The other thing I would say is this show is approachable. It's the kind of thing that just about anybody can come to and feel comfortable. If you are someone who is religious, I think the show is reverent enough for you to be able to appreciate the story and even the departures from the story without feeling like it's blasphemous.
And if you aren't particularly religious, you can still enjoy the show for the thematic ideas. It's more about building community and exploring relationships particularly within the family, which we can all understand and appreciate no matter what our religious background is. And kids can come! There's no questionable language or sexual situations that parents might be concerned about.
I'm so excited for you to dig into this role, and I'm excited to see it!
Yeah, I think it will be a really great production. This creative team is really spectacular. Justin is really smart of course, Ann-Carol Pence is a pillar in the Atlanta musical theatre community, Ricardo Aponte's choreography really helps to bring the story alive, and it's a great cast! There's some really good singing in this show. The young people in this show are doing a fantastic job. I'm excited about people in the community who don't know about them to get to see them perform. They're gonna be really impressed and blown away by them. I'm excited about it. I hope that everything continues to go well. So far it's been going great!
Children of Eden will play at Aurora Theatre July 18 - September 1, with discount matinees on Tuesday, July 30 and August 20 at 10 a.m. Tickets are currently on sale; single tickets start at $30 and may be purchased online at bit.ly/ChildrenofEden or by calling the Box Office at 678-226-6222. For more information on this production or other programming, please visit auroratheatre.com.