The Friday 5: Circle Players' CHILDREN OF EDEN

Nashville's Circle Players, celebrating its 61st season, presents the Stephen Schwartz musical Children of Eden, a retelling of two Biblical stories from the Old Testament, featuring a cast of local stage veterans and newcomers under the direction of Josh Waldrep. Opening tonight at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre in north Nashville, it's one of the season's most anticipated new offerings.

Cast members Lauren Frances Jones (Eve) Wesley King (Adam) and Cassie Donegan move into our spotlight today, taking on our Friday 5 questions, offering you some insight into how they got to where they are today, what informs their creative process and, perhaps more importantly, telling why they think you should come see their show!

Lauren Frances Jones

What was your first "live onstage" taste of theater? In the fifth grade at O.B. Gates Elementary in Richmond, Virginia, I starred in my school musical. I played a Minnie Pearl character. I sang a song called "laying it all on the line." The first live show I saw was Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. My father took my brother and me. I could've gone to heaven then.

What is your favorite pre-show ritual? Being dressed and dancing, push- ups, being really quiet or listening to music that puts me in the mindset of the show/character. Praying with my cast.

What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? Doing an anti-bullying tour for schools, my cast and I were scheduled to be in a south GA gymnasium to perform for the student body. There was no air conditioning so we had to keep the doors open to survive but the whole gym was filled with gnats; thousands of gnats flying in our mouths, eyes, ears, hair. We had to complete the show to get paid, besides the obvious benefit of teaching these corn fed football playing boys to stop bullying the little kids. Yet, meanwhile we were getting straight bullied by these gnats. This school loved us though. We got mad respect from the students and faculty. Although I do recall them laughing a whole lot at us swatting gnats and improv-ing gnat lines into the show. CRAZY!!!!

What's your dream role? I am an actor, singer who loves to dance. I want to work daily and I want to get paid for it so I can make a living. However, I want desperately to inspire others and tell stories with wonderful people. So the pressure any process puts on me to get "IT" out of me is a dream come true . My dream role is the role I have and the next one. In actuality, I still do not know that my dream role has been written. Probably, because I have not written it. Better get on that.

Who's your theatrical crush?
Lenny Kravitz still gets me. But I got crushes on everyone in my cast. They are smoking fire.

Wesley King

What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? My first taste of "live, onstage" theater was doing Children of Eden! I had always participated in music but never theater until a friend convinced me to audition. That was five years ago this same month.

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? I adopted this ritual from someone in college: Eating greasy foods to loosen up the vocal chords. Probably all in my head but, oh well!

What's your favorite, most memorable, example of "the show must go on"? During Sweeney Todd, the trunk in the barber shop almost fell about eight to nine feet. while the Barber Shop was changing back to the Pie Shop. I believe Pirelli may have still been inside.

What's your dream role? Marius in Les Miserables, or literally anything in A Little Night Music.

Who's your theatrical crush? Kelli O'Hara. Hands down.

EXTRA-SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Why should people come see Children of Eden? Because it's relevant. The conflicts in this story are the same conflicts we are facing today. We could all benefit from these lessons of forgiveness and acceptance. It's based on a biblical story but it's also a human experience story. I love it.

Cassie Donegan

What was your first taste of "live, onstage" theater? I was blessed to grow up in a church (that was also my school) where music was so present! So, the first stage I ever performed on was the little, light blue colored carpet in my church back home. So you could say the first time I ever saw music performed AND performed onstage myself was right there in that little Parkview Church of God. My first musical I ever did though was when I was five-years-old. I played Kaa the Snake in The Jungle Book and absolutely fell in love! I wore this huge green snake head and I had my own solo song all to myself. Ever since then I haven't gone more than two months without doing a poor mother!

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? My pre-show ritual is sort of an all-day thing. I start my day off by not speaking at all before noon. Need to save the voice! I drink about two to three bottles of aloe juice and as much tea as my body will let me. Around an hour until curtain I eat a bag of plains Lays chips and a bag of Sour Patch Kids. About 30 minute before the show I start sucking on this candy called Root Beer Barrels. Right before places I always take a little moment by myself to pray and have a little "chat" with my "guardian angel" Momma Kay, who was one my biggest influences in the theatre world when she was still with us. Then places and the show!

What's your favorite, most memorable, example of "the show must go on"? Oh goodness...honestly, so many embarrassing things have happened to me that fall into this category. It is definitely a tie between an Annie mishap and an Addams Family mishap. When I was Annie for my school for a concer , we had Sandy and me start at the back of the room for a number. It was time for us to enter towards the stage but Sandy just was not feeling it. So, you had little 67 pounds of me trying to drag this big golden retriever through the room as she dug her claws into the floor. Needless to say, it was not working and Annie eventually had to ditch Sandy at the back of the room. When I played Wednesday Addams, I wore these super skinny heeled boots. Now, I am not the most graceful person and can fall off of a flat surface. So, I am walking down this big staircase during a scene and just fall. Down the steps. Completely. Fell. In front of an entire audience. It was so embarrassing. God just didn't bless me with the ability to be graceful...

What's your dream role? Without a doubt, Velma Kelly in Chicago! I'm that dorky kid whose mom would catch her in her room in full-on hair, makeup and costume doing all of the choreography and scenes (by myself) full out to my audience of stuffed animals. To play Velma would be a dream!

Who's your theatrical crush? I am slightly (completely) in love with Taye Diggs. He is extremely talented and it doesn't hurt that I could look at him for hours!

EXTRA-SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Why should people come see Children of Eden? So many reasons! First, because it is the most beautiful story ever to be told! This show radiates God's glory and you feel His presence with you in that theatre. The show is so uplifting and real. The music brings me to tears night after night. Also, this cast is one of the most equally talented and hard-working ensembles I have ever worked with before. These people put their hearts on that stage and give it their all. I have never been in a show with zero drama and this show had exactly that! Everyone is so loving and caring welcoming. You can feel that during the show. If not for any other reason, come to see the hard work that each one of these incredible performers put out on that stage. I promise you will not forget it!

About the show: Mix together fable, biblical stories, music and a cast filled with talented local performers, and the result is Circle Players' production of Children of Eden, running March 18-April 3, at Nashville's Z. Alexander Looby Theater. This epic musical by the award-winning creators of Wicked (Stephen Schwartz) and Les Miserables (John Caird) continues Circle's 66th season, as the oldest community theater organization in Middle Tennessee.

Children of Eden is a twist on two Old Testament stories Genesis, set to Schwartz's musical score. Act One tells the story of Adam and Eve; Act Two tells the story of Noah and The Flood. The score uses a variety of musical styles (gospel, pop, world music, classical) to convey the family relationships and conflicts that often get passed from generation to generation.

While the musical is loosely based on religious text, it offers a fresh perspective on these stories by framing them in terms of the relationship between parents and children. It is the human tale of families experiencing love, rage, guilt and their consequences as well as second chances that should resonate most with audience members, according to Josh Waldrep, who directs the Circle Players' production.

"Whether it be love, hardships, compassion, pain, forgiveness or heartbreak - each person will hopefully find that human experience in this show," says Waldrep, who has had a passion for Children of Eden for years, and is thrilled to finally be able to direct the show. "I believe this show has a power in its message and that people will fall in love with it like I did many years ago."

Children of Eden has become one of the most frequently licensed musicals, yet it has never played on Broadway. It first debuted in London and was well received. But it faced a number of production problems and budget cuts that prevented it from making it to Broadway. Instead, Schwartz began producing Children of Eden in various smaller venues around the United States, where it caught on and developed an impressive following.

Circle's production features a cast of 26 local performers, many appearing for the first time in a Circle Players' production. Among the featured actors are David Arnold as Father, Wesley King as Adam and Lauren Jones as Eve.

Performances are March 18-April 3, at Z. Alexander Looby Theater, 2301 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard. Show times are: Thursday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for Children of Eden may be purchased online at at $18 for adults, $15 for students (elementary through college) and seniors (60-plus). Prices are higher at the door. Thursdays (March 24 and 31) are Pay-What-You-Can. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. For group sales and to make all reservations, email or call (615) 332-7529.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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