Am I on the Great White Way or am I really sitting in a theater in Bowie, MD? This is what I was thinking as I enjoyed 2nd Star Production’s opening night of Children of Eden now playing at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse. Directed by Vince Musgrave, this show has that Broadway sound and feel. And with music and lyrics by the great Stephen Schwartz, composer for Broadway hits such as Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked, how could it not?
Children of Eden is a two-act musical that recreates the story of creation in the first nine Books of Genesis based on a book by John Caird. Stephen Schwartz’ musical score of pop, rock, jazz, Caribbean, and gospel create a high-energy collage of musical variety in Children of Eden. It first opened in the West End in London in 1991 to mixed reviews, but after Stephen Schwartz reworked the original production, they brought it to the U.S. where it has become very popular in schools, synagogues, and churches, and community theatres. And recently, it was performed as a one-night-only concert at The Kennedy Center on May 18, 2014.
A visually beautiful darkened stage illumined by sparkly lights (by Designer Garrett Hyde) opens Act I to a groundswell chorus of “Let There Be Light,” the beginning of creation. It is the Garden of Eden and Father (Chris Overly), the God-character, tells Adam (E. Lee Nicol) and Eve (Caelyn D. Sommerville) to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge. Instead, Father distracts them by asking them to name and record all the fish and fowl of the air that he has created for them in the garden. Father, Eve and a host of Storytellers joyfully sing “The Naming,” which unfolds into “The Spark of Creation,” Caelyn’s first delightful solo. You knew you were in for an evening of great singing as Caelyn passionately performed it. The first act has fourteen splendid tunes with lyrics that recount Eve’s temptation in “In Pursuit of Excellence” and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden in “The Expulsion,” “The Wasteland,” and “Lost in the Wilderness.”
The story of Cain (Austin Dare) and Abel (Daniel Starnes), sons born to Adam and Eve, has a slight Biblical twist in that Cain kills Abel by accident when he really intended to kill Adam, and the Father, really wanted Adam to remain in the Garden of Eden but Adam chose to be with Eve singing, “A World without You.” Act I ends with a strong chorus of the Father and Storytellers bemoaning “The Mark of Cain” in song and the plight of the “Children of Eden.”
The set designed by Jane B. Wingard was simply, but cleverly outfitted with primitive-looking rock formations embellished with hanging vines, flowers and The Tree of Knowledge to depict the idyllic Garden of Eden. The ensemble of this wonderful production is a talented mix of actors young and old with many darling children who all play a variety of roles. But the children steal the show every time particularly when they portray the cute animal figures in the story of creation.
In the second act, colorful Biblical characters and animals in the story of Noah’s Ark come fully alive beginning with “Generations” sung by the Storytellers. It tells of the descendants of Cain and Able down to Noah and his wife and sons. Light choreography by Vince Musgrave marked the entire production but the ensemble danced more in the second act. Many of the dance moves involved literally balancing on one foot which made for somewhat shaky stances by all but the better dancers. It was still fun to watch although the dancing was not the strongest aspect of this production.
True to the Biblical account, Noah is told to build and ark and to bring two of every kind of animal on board. The most delightful part of the entire show was the imaginative costume pageant of rabbits, turtles, cats, ostriches, peacocks, polar bears, giraffes, monkey, zebras, and elephants who marched from the back of the theater onto the stage to fill the ark. Animal Costume Designer Beth Starnes pulled out all the stops with original, creative animal costumes inhabited by those adorable children as well as adult actors. Carrie Dare and Linda Swann designed the other colorful traditional Biblical ensemble costumes. The animal pageant was a showstopper as the orchestra played “The Return of the Animals.”
Noah (E. Lee Nicol) and Mama Noah (Caelyn D. Sommerville) have three sons, Shem (Dakarai Brown), Ham (Robbie Dinsmore) and Japheth (Daniel Starnes). Two of the sons are married but Japheth wants to marry Yonah (Alexandra Baca), who is from the tribe of Cain, and thus forbidden by Noah. Japheth sneaks Yonah onto the ark. Alexandra Baca and Daniel Starnes are a powerful singing duo as they rebelliously declare their love “In Whatever Time We Have.”
Herein lies the final redemptive thematic of the Children of Eden as Noah learns acceptance and that love means letting go, as he welcomes Yonah into the fold and marries them. Noah has now become the Father figure and understands “The Hardest Part of Love” singing “Aint It Good” in a rousing gospel chorus ensemble finale. In the final tableau, the actors leave the stage and dramatically walk into the audience bringing us full circle in song with “In the Beginning.”
Eleven tunes mark the second act. Under the excellent musical direction of Joe Biddle, the 2nd Star Orchestra with Mike Monda on Keyboard 1, Lynn Graham and Elisa Poole on Keyboard 2, Steve Hudgins on Keyboard 3, Mari Hill on Reed 1, Dan Longo and Matt Elky on Reed 2, Mary Haaser on Reed 3, Jeff Eckert and Larry Ansted on Bass, Emily Busch playing French Horn, and Rob Gersten and Zach Konich on drums all deserve individual special mention for the tremendous contribution their musical performance made to the success of Children of Eden. They were superb.
2nd Star Production’s heavenly Children of Eden is an excellent production that appeals to audiences of all ages. The ticket price is right, the seats of the Bowie Playhouse are good from anywhere in the theater, and an all-star cast magically makes going to see it, right here in Bowie, a choice as wise as Solomon. Go see it!
Running Time: Two Hours and thirty minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Children of Eden plays through October 25, 2014 at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive – in White Marsh Park, Rt. 3 South, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 805-0219, or purchase them online.