Nothing quite gets my juices going quite like a Stephen Schwartz musical. Wicked. Godspell. Pippin. But, combine a Stephen Schwartz musical with some of the top talent on Broadway, along with the brilliant Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra conducted by Musical Director Brad Haak and pitch-perfect National Broadway Chorus? Now that’s a recipe for a show-stopping success!
Adapted as a semi-staged concert with book by John Caird and lyrics and music by Oscar and Grammy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, Children of Eden in Concert was performed Monday night as a one-time-only event in the Eisenhower Theater. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the performance was nothing short of a master class spectacle.
The Kennedy Center bills Children of Eden in Concert as a “joyous and inspirational musical about parents, children, and faith. Freely based on the story of Genesis, Children of Eden in Concert is a frank, heartfelt, and often humorous examination of the age-old conflict between parents and children. Adam, Eve, Noah, and the “Father” who created them deal with the headstrong, cataclysmic actions of their respective children. The show ultimately delivers a bittersweet but inspiring message: “the hardest part of love… is letting go.”
Featuring an all-star Broadway cast, including Ron Bohmer (Ragtime) as Father, Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins) as Eve/Mama Noah, Tony nominee Charl Brown (Motown the Musical) as Adam/Father Noah, Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) as Cain/Japeth, Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot) as Yonah, Ashley Spencer (Grease) as Aphra, Kay Trinidad (Allegiance) as Aysha, Adam Hyndman as Seth/Shem, and Josh Walden (Ragtime) as Abel/Ham, Children of Eden in Concert celebrates the latest and greatest in Broadway talent, while nostalgically heralding one of Stephen Schwartz’s brilliant—but perhaps lesser-known—works.
Children of Eden played a brief run at Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End in 1991, but closed shortly thereafter. While never making it to Broadway, Children of Eden was later produced at Paper Mill Playhouse and has become a popular piece for amateur and professional theatre organizations, spawning a host of revivals and community productions.
The presentation is everything. The entire performance was set-up as a semi-staged concert, with The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra set up on the right of the stage and the National Broadway Chorus situated to the left of the stage. With a staircase leading from center stage to a platform above the chorus through which the performers made frequent exits and entrances, conductor Brad Haak joined both groups in producing the mellifluous harmonic backdrop of the evening.
The “set” was minimal, consisting of a screen backlit showing various images that coincided with the major plot points of the show: a tree to symbolize the Garden of Eden, a few planks of wood to symbolize Noah’s Ark, etc. While minimal, the set (by Robert Denton and Christian Boy) did its job as far as communicating a sense of time and place. It was functional, but not distracting.
Costumes by Bobby Pearce played a major role in communicating the role of each character and the place in which the plot’s events were taking place, which became especially important because many performers played dual roles in myriad settings. The costumes were at once simplistic—as one might imagine being set in Biblical times—yet also were intricate enough to communicate characteristics like affluence, poverty, age, wellness, etc.
Throughout the performance, a group of contemporary dancers from Company E would weave on and offstage in various choreographed musical sequences in time to the music. The brilliance of dance in the show was showcased in the song “The Naming (Reprise)/Noah’s Lullaby”—in which the dancers joined together to mimic the movements of various animals boarding the Ark. Their movement garnered a rousing applause from the audience mid-song—showcasing just how powerful and interesting the choreography by Marcia Milgrom Dodge was and how it contributed to a full sense of the performance.
The all-star cast makes for a powerful ensemble.
Ron Bohmer plays a powerful Father. His booming, deep voice at the start of Act I is powerful—reminding me of the power and command of, say, the leading Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera. It’s strong and haunting at times, yet also has the power to be consoling and smooth. Bohmer masters this characterization with ease. Bohmer plays a key role in setting the plot and tone of the show with the opening sequence of “Grateful Children,” “Father’s Day,” and “Perfect” as he recounts constructing a perfect universe to Adam and Eve.
Ashley Brown (Eve/Mama Noah) is enchanting in both roles that she plays. Singing the iconic “Spark of Creation” as Eve, Brown garnered the first of many minute-long applause breaks throughout the evening. Her voice is crystal clear, making it easy to understand the sense of emotional longing her character has for what is “beyond.” Her belts are strong but not overpowering, and her acting is just as strong as her singing. In Act II as Mama Noah, she again stole the spotlight with “Ain’t It Good?”—a gospel-like song that Mama Noah sings aboard Noah’s Ark after the floods stop. I have never heard quite as thunderous applause in the Eisenhower Theatre as when she finished that number. Brava!
Tony nominee Charl Brown (Adam/Father Noah) delivers a versatile performance that showcases his vocal range and acting potential. Carrying a characterization from young boy to father, the way that Brown is able to aptly embody man in various stages of life is simply remarkable. His performance of “Childhood’s End” and “A World Without You” was biting and emotional, leading several of the audience member’s around me to tears.
Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (Cain/Japeth) stole the show for me, with his powerful rendition of “Lost in the Wilderness,” a song in which Cain tells Abel about how he intends to find the Garden of Eden. Jordan—who performed the same work at a tribute concert to Stephen Schwartz last year at The Kennedy Center—nailed the song again yet again, showing how he’s able to play the part of a leading tenor with sophistication and ease. His acting skills shine through as a mischievous Cain in the first act, giving way to a more passionate and earnest Japeth in the second act. Based on the thunderous applause when he took the stage, it was clear that many members of the audience were all-too-familiar with his role on the hit television show Smash.
Rebecca Naomi Jones (Yonah) was also one of the stars of the evening, which was a bit of a surprise since she appears only in the second act. Her duet with Jordan in “In Whatever Time We Have” was one of the most memorable duets of the evening, in which the two star-crossed lovers profess their love for one another and cherish the time they have left. Her poignant solo, “Sailor of the Skies,” was delivered with grace and finesse.
Children of Eden is a timeless treasure of the Broadway songbook, and, even if you missed out on the fantastic performance Monday evening, it’s worth checking out and (re)visiting. The score is enchanting, and you might even recognize a tune or two that you know.
Children of Eden in Concert played for one night only on May 18, 2014, at 8 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre — 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For future performances go to their performance calendar.