Get Me To the Ark on Time: Children of Eden at Danbury’s Richter Park
Stephen Schwartz’s two-act musical Children of Eden (with a book by John Caird)is an enormously popular show in community productions. After a forgettable opening on the London stage, a Broadway debut seemed unlikely. The show has an enormous cast, and production costs in 1991 made it a risky gamble at that time, given its initial poor showing overseas.
All the same, the show has always been a popular one on the local level (including churches and synagogues), although its attraction probably springs from another source entirely. It only looks like an updated version of Old Testament themes. Actually, its musical spin on Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and his brood strikes a more familiar chord than the elemental stuff of scripture, modernized or not. Its characters seem more like our own family members, than they do the archetypal figures of the Bible.
For starters, God is called simply “Father” by the errant Adam (played by Marc Fanning) and Eve (played by Lauren Romeo), while their expulsion from the Garden of Eden seems more like the product of a divine snit than it does a heavenly lesson for the sin of disobedience. And far from accepting Father’s payback in a duly remorseful way, Adam and Eve carry on as if they were indefinitely grounded from internet access by an arbitrary parent. When pressed for an explanation for their expulsion, Father lamely replies, “I have my reasons”—as if he were refusing to own up to actually not having any at all.
In Children of Eden then, Mr. Schwartz seems to be depicting the foibles of modern families, rather than the moral lessons of the stern God of the Old Testament.
The trope is even more apparent in the second act of the musical. When it comes to Noah (Ted Schwartz), his wife (Stacey Snyder), and their three sons, Shem (Stephen Papallo), Ham (Brian Bremmer), and Japheth (Jacob Eventoff), interactions not only become contentious flash-points, they approximate tantrums, as if biblical stories were being morphed into dysfunctional family dynamics.
Even God and Noah finally capitulate to the wishes of Japheth to marry Yonah (Katie Cummings), a woman cursed by the generational mark of Cain. The concession to Japheth seems no more weighty than a contemporary parent tolerating a son who wants to marry a woman with a disagreeable array of tattoos.
The production of the show in the 25th summer of Musicals at Richter had its strengths and weaknesses. Vocally, group numbers like “Generations” and “In the Beginning,” sung by leading characters and Storytellers (who functioned like a Greek chorus) were accomplished.
Walt Cramer as “Father” had a sturdy baritone voice which, while obviously fortified by operatic training, was a bit compromised by a noticeable vibrato. The outstanding vocal number was by Stacey Snyder in Mama Noah’s “Ain’t It Good,” a gospel-style song served well by Ms. Snyder’s belting and energetic style. Other soloists had a tendency to be off pitch, especially in the higher registers.
One of Choreographer Matthew Farina’s clever touches was to represent the evil snake in the Garden of Eden as an undulating line of five performers attired in black derbys and red vests (Annie Bryson, Allie Bukowski, Anna DeMasi, Caitlin Keeler, and Stephen Michaelsson). The device was imaginative, especially when actors synchronized their movements. Mr. Schwartz’s snake (the devil in reptilian form) was not above scoring some points still troubling theologians. He teasingly remarks, “If God made all this, who made God?” Snakes can get under your skin when not intent on shedding their own.
In this reviewer’s opinion, Director Minor and choreographer Farina both missed the opportunity to provide group staging with a more inventive touch than they did. Members of the Storyteller’s group of 26 performers and the 9 actors of the Children’s Ensemble seemed uncomfortably static most of the time. More attention to the creative movement of performers in large groups might have benefited the production.
It should be noted that the deluge around Noah’s ark may be a close second to Danbury, Connecticut, when it comes to the weather. “The rain it raineth every day,” said Shakespeare, and July, 2009 in our state is no exception. The area seems to be running neck and neck with the 40 days and 40 nights downpour in Noah’s era in Genesis. So area carpenters, get hopping to build the big vessel. And citizens, start rounding up animals in pairs in the event of the worst case scenario.
Children of Eden opened July 30 and runs until August 15, 2009 at Musicals at Richter, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury, CT, 06811. Performances are on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $21 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $13 for Students and Children. Thet can be purchased by calling the box office at 203.748.6873, or online at info@MusicalsatRichter.org.