For those of you that missed your opportunity to see Children of Eden: I’m genuinely sorry. This was the wholesome, sweet, and simply beautiful production that the usually dramatic and bleak backdrop of student theatre was needing. While the genesis story might not impact everyone the same way, Steven Schwartz’s musical interpretation highlighted the worldwide concepts of kindness, loyalty, and beauty that the Cecilian company then ran with for a flying color performance.
Let’s start with the structural components of the show. The Cecilians are known for their open chorus policies, an approach to casting that I totally understand, but that I believe can sometimes hamper the polish of a final production if the large group isn’t correctly integrated (my biggest musical pet peeve is the massive, choir-like chorus backing up a duet with no real reason other than inclusion). However Eden is a special example of a chorus show where more is really the merrier. The massive ensemble seemed like people just being themselves, a bemused, enchanting, and happy group of bystanders who happened to appear on stage to help tell the story of genesis. Their numbers and separation into groups of colors gave off a simple and fluid way for scenes and stories to transition, giving the whole show the aura of a kindly, colorful children’s gospel book.
The tech and staging were also vital components towards making Eden as good as it was. The lights were warm, vibrant, and painted washes that perfectly caught the mood of each song, with no tacky transitions into blackouts that made the show flow seamlessly. The choreography was pretty typical of a collegiate musical, with the strong exception of the dancers portraying the snake whose jazzy ensemble practically stole the first act. The set was simple and mainly iconographical, the garlands of flowers and vines of Eden were simply removed and replaced with rocks for the wasteland and these in turn were struck for the deck of the Ark with lights and exposition leading the way through the story rather than tangible set. This more subtle form of transition led to a bit of boredom near the end of the show, but the vocal performances make any small gripe on technique completely irrelevant.
I’ve tried to write the intro to this paragraph six times but the only thing I can say is: Janet Foster. Playing both Eve and Noah’s wife, Foster was hands down the driving force of the production. Her voice was so completely effortless, powerful, and unparalleled that everytime the cadence for her primary song “Spark of Creation” appeared in the score the audience practically leaned forwards in their chairs. Undeniably the heart and soul of the production. She was balanced with Michael Strachan as a wonderful Adam/Noah, whose easy voice soared through emotional and gripping songs and scenes alike. Michael Pellman and Alisdair Semple (portraying Cain and Abel respectively) were the saviors of the first act. Pellman’s almost suspiciously astounding belt (truly otherworldly, what a talent) rattled both the theatre and the hearts of the audience with piercing accuracy while Semple’s endearing and devastating portrayal of the doomed Abel brought gasps and murmurs of sadness from his audience.
No garden is a garden without its creator, and the powerful entities of grace and Grace Kanyamibwa and Harrison Owens proved this through their exceptional rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s interpretation of God. Kanyamibwa was as stolid and powerful as her astounding voice while Owens evoked a benevolent and almost comedic aura that fit his lilting, striking vocal capacity: their vocal pairing was enough to convince anyone of a higher power. In the 11th hour the show was graced with a late favorite in Alice Sufferin’s Yonah, whose “Stranger to the Rain” showcased a tremendous power of voice and emotion that picked up the slack of the show’s two hour run. The ensemble of specialists were welcome breaks from a lead-heavy production, shining in particular in “Generations” where they loosened up the production with some much need improvisation and some tricky runs.
While the soloists solidified the power of the production, the most special moments of Children of Eden came when the whole cast became one, singing to the audience. The cast blossomed with Schwartz’s simple yet heart-rending choral progression, singing with such delicacy and emotion that I’m sure everyone in the audience had to take a moment. In the final number the ensemble stood together exuding an energy of such happiness and strength that you could actually see the love between the cast members and their music. Seeing a group of students making art like that is a treat in itself, but that combined with their sheer talent and exceptional interpretation of a beautiful show? Heaven on earth.