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Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Children of Eden
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Review by Scott Cain | Season Schedule

The Musical Theatre Studio Series at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) sometimes offers shows that are rarely produced, while other times allows for risk taking in the presentation of more popular shows. Their recently completed production of Children of Eden fits into the latter category. The musical was extremely well sung and acted by the student cast, and the design and directorial choices provided some interesting takes on the material, with varying results.

Children of Eden is a retelling of two Old Testament stories—Adam and Eve and Noah's Ark. They're told from an adult perspective, generally following the Bible stories but with some additional plot lines. The show is considered by some to be a prequel to Godspell due to the shared composer/lyricist and a few minor nods to the New Testament musical within Children of Eden. The musical likely holds the distinction of being the most often produced musical each year to have never had a major New York City production on or off Broadway.

The book by John Caird (Jane Eyre, Daddy Long Legs) is an interesting one, using these two well-known stories as the framework for addressing several universal themes: the challenges and joys of parenthood, the benefits and sacrifices of inquisitive pursuit of knowledge over faithful obedience, and the power of mercy. There are a few times when the storytelling isn't the most efficient and the show seems a bit longer than its 145 minute running time, but it is overall an engaging and clearly told tale.

The score by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell) is a strong one, with soaring melodies, intelligent and probing lyrics, and some beautiful choral arrangements. The opening number "Let There Be" and closing song "In The Beginning" are both wonderfully layered musically and dramatically impactful. In act one, "The Spark of Creation", Eve's anthem conveying her desire to learn about the world, "Close To Home", "Lost in the Wilderness", and the emotionally moving title number are all superb songs. After intermission, "Stranger to the Rain" and "In Whatever Time We Have", one of Schwartz's best duets, are score highlights as well.

The cast as a whole, and all of the lead and supporting performers especially, are gifted vocalists and displayed magnificent singing. Philip Johnson-Richardson (Father) skillfully displayed the godly qualities of the character while also conveying the hopes and frustrations felt by any parent regarding his children. Bruce Baxter captured the innocence and obedient faithfulness of Adam, while Ciara Alyse Harris was an ever-questioning and curious Eve. As Noah, Gabe Wrobel provided a tender and thoughtful portrayal of the character. Emily Royer supplied the most impressive singing in the show as Yonah, the servant girl from the race of Cain whom one of Noah's sons smuggles on board the ark. Other worthwhile performances included those turned in by Zack Triska (Cain), EJ Dohring (Abel), Stavros Koumbaros (Japheth), and Emily Ashton Meredith (Mama Noah), as well as Jenny Mollet and Matthew Copley as the lead vocalists for "Generations". The cast splendidly executed some enchanting choral singing within the show as well.

Director and choreographer Vince DeGeorge provided a stripped down, bare bones staging of the show, using minimal props or costume pieces, yet maintained a highly theatrical tone and blocking. Much of his directorial choices worked well individually, but the piece lacked an overall cohesiveness in vision. It didn't help that the set design (by Logan Greenwell) mostly consisted of two large piles of mismatched chairs. If there was a purpose, function, or concept to be represented by them, it wasn't clearly communicated by the director. The costumes by Amy Luce were modern day attire in shades of gray, white and burgundy. No additional costuming was used during the "animal" scenes and songs, which is in line with the stripped down approach. However, the overall lack of variety in costuming was visually boring. Children of Eden doesn't really call for any traditional dancing, so Mr. DeGeorge's choreography was more in the line with stylized movement befitting the approach and material. Musical director Stephen Goers supplied spirited and skillful piano accompaniment throughout.

Children of Eden is frequently produced around town by community theaters, high schools, and youth programs, but you'll be lucky to see one as well acted or sung as CCM's production. The show can be presented in numerous ways, and this Studio Series offering supplied much to enjoy, even if it wasn't perfect. Children of Eden was presented March 30 – April 1, 2017.

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