I told him after the show that this show was “Vincetacular.” And I meant it as high praise.
You see, director Vince DeGeorge has a masterful way of taking a show with little to no budget and painting stage pictures on the canvas of the Cohen Studio Theatre in beautiful ways. CHILDREN OF EDEN feels like a Vince DeGeorge show. And I love that.
Stephen Schwartz created this musical in 1986, originally called “Family Tree,” for a high school religious camp. I will tell you that if this show had been produced at any religious camps I went to growing up, lightning might have struck the building. At the very least some angry phone calls would have been made. It’s theologically difficult for the Bible college graduate in me but it is an interesting story about families and fathers. It just so happens that this one features God, Adam, Eve, Noah, and their broods.
Before the show began, the cast came out into the space and interacted with the audience out-of-character. An interesting choice, I thought, but one that definitely increased the energy on this Saturday matinee. As the lights went dark and the cast used handheld flashlights to create stars in the universe, we meet “Father,” played by Phillip Johnson Richardson. His masculine presence held the show together from start to finish. “Adam” (Bryce Baxter) and “Eve” (Ciara Alyse Harris) are his children and the begat their own children (Zack Triska as “Cain” and EJ Dohring as “Abel.”).
Act Two tells the story of “Noah” (Gabe Wrobel, who’s having a remarkable year in this space) and his ark; instead of focusing on the flood and the animals, though, this show spotlights the family. With a Romeo-and-Juliet-like relationship, “Japeth” (Stavros Koumbaros) and “Yonah” (Emily Royer), bring the romance and drama. It’s all really quite lovely.
Harris is a wonderful performer. She especially shines on numbers like “The Spark of Creation” and “Children of Eden.” Triska, who’s developing into a very well-rounded performer, wowed me with his rendition of “Lost in the Wilderness” while Royer lit up the stage with “Stranger to the Rain.” Her duet with Koumbaros (“In Whatever Time We Have”) was another highlight.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Steve Goer’s musical direction and piano work, especially on songs like “In Pursuit of Excellence” and “Ain’t It Good?” The harmonies were tight and the musical arrangements gorgeous. The costumes by Amy Luce were simple and effective and the set design by Logan Greenwell was inventive.
While this show won’t ever be on my top ten list of favorite musicals, this production is memorable for its distinct style and high quality. I wish it ran longer so more people could have seen it.
CCM will hopefully be announcing next year’s season soon. Stay tuned.