Children of Eden
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
May 14, 2010
Reviewing Children of Eden, a musical by Stephen Schwartz and John Caird, being put on by the Astoria Performing Arts Center at The Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, presents an interesting challenge for me: I have never professionally reviewed a show before that was not a new or original work. It isn't like I can highlight complaints in story structure or dialogue on a show removed from the original creative team by almost two decades. Not that I have any. However, my main concern was whether or not this production would live up to what I expected of this musical. Happily, I can say that it absolutely does.
For those not familiar with the show, it is a retelling of parts of the book of Genesis, highlighting the familial dynamic from protagonist to protagonist, and focusing primarily on Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and his family. It details the creation of the world, the exile of mankind from paradise, the first act of violence, and then the redemption of mankind through a purging flood.
Walking into the church, I was first struck by the impressive set. Designed by Michael P. Kramer, it enveloped the audience as we entered the space. The main platform runs the length of the room as a central aisle, dividing the audience. It seemed that very little of the visible portion of the room was not constructed for the show, giving it an immersive quality which was furthered along by the cast continually entering the audience space to sing (and at times directly at us). The members of the cast as whole are very strong, with a good balance that prevents anyone from overpowering the rest. It's a rare thing to find such a well-matched group of actors, with no one faltering amidst the various challenging parts. Special attention should be paid to Joseph Spieldenner and Emmy Raver-Lampman, playing both the parts of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his wife, as they provide the emotional center for the show with their heartfelt performances and excellent voices.
What also interested me was how well the staging worked to highlight the generational saga that unfolded. Parallel actions jumped out at me, making the similar situations that developed really resonate. Tom Wojtunik clearly put a lot of work assembling this massive show and it paid off.
This isn't to say that the show is perfect. The "storyteller chorus" has always seemed awkward to me in every version of the show I've seen, and the decision to dress them like the God character blurred the line on what they are, mythologically speaking. The stage layout resulted in lights being cast on the audience, which distracted me by allowing me to see the people across from me too well and irritated me by shining a spotlight in my eye when characters walked by me. Finally, the space is not really designed to be such a performance space and the acoustics at times faltered during the show, particularly during rare solos that were well upstage. However, if these complaints seem nitpicky, it's because they are. The show is extremely well put together, with good design, a strong cast, and capable direction. This production of Children of Eden may be one of the most fun musicals you can go see right now.