BWW Review: Weathervane Playhouse Polishes Up One of Schwartz's Forgotten Gems, CHILDREN OF EDEN
Consider the resume of Stephen Schwartz. He is the creative force behind WICKED and PIPPIN, collaborated with Alan Menken on Disney's POCAHONTAS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and ENCHANTED and contributed songs to DreamWorks' PRINCE OF EGYPT.
If you pull out the magnifying glass and really search the fine print, you will find listed CHILDREN OF EDEN, the opening production of the Weathervane Playhouse's summer season. The two-and-a half-hour, two-act musical opened June 1 and runs through June 10 at the Playhouse (100 Price Street in Newark).
The playhouse's 10-day run of the musical, which tells the story of Adam and Eve in the first act and Noah and the Great Flood in the second, lasts almost as long as the musical's debut in London's West End. Partially due to disappointing reviews of the production, CHILDREN OF EDEN opened on Jan. 8, 1991 and closed four months later at the Prince Edward Theatre. Because of its lackluster ticket sales, the show never made it to Broadway.
However, with standout performances by Travis Smith (Father), Christiana Perrault (Eve/Mama Noah) and Layne Roate (Adam/Noah) as well as a terrific ensemble cast, director D.J. Salisbury's Playhouse debut is a memorable one.
Roate, a versatile actor and a staple at the Playhouse, continues to show his range as an actor, presenting Adam and Noah as men torn by their devotion to God and their love and loyalty to their families. Perrault sparkles as Eve, capturing a youthful curiosity and hunger for knowledge that leads to the world's first act of teenage rebellion. Smith has the unenviable role of playing God. In every quasi-religious musical, be it GODSPELL, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR or the delightful blasphemous BOOK OF MORMON, some member of the audience will walk away from the production muttering, "That's not how I pictured Him." Smith does a remarkable job of portraying the Almighty, showing both his love and his intolerance toward those who disobey.
Mix in those performances with outstanding supporting players in Jack Baylis (Cain/Japheth), Emily Brennan (Aysha), Coen Cox (Young Abel), William Gorgas (Young Cain), Amy Keum (Aphra), Zakk Mannella (Seth/Shem), Mac Myles (Abel/Ham), and Whitney Noelle (Yonah) and the solid performances of Matt Coombs (bass), Phil Brown Dupont (keyboards), Gayla Ebersole (reeds), Will Mayer (drums), Brett Burleson (guitar) and Harrison Ponce (keyboards) under the direction of Kevin N. Wines and you have a solid show.
If there's a weakness to this show, it's Schwartz's schmaltzy opening numbers. Despite interesting staging by Salisbury, the songs "Let There Be" and "Perfect, Part I" came across as a highly evolved numbers from a vacation Bible school production. Schwartz adapted the CHILDREN OF EDEN script from a Youth Sing Praise religious themed high school theater camp in 1986 and adapted the show into what it is now. However, once Perrault takes over in the song "The Spark of Creation," the show turns a dramatic corner from a well-meaning Bible story to a musical with complexity and purpose.
There are just five shows remaining for the production of CHILDREN OF EDEN with 8 p.m. performances of the musical on June 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Street in Newark). For ticket information, please call the ticket office at 740-366-4616.