Review: ‘Children of Eden’ at Young Artists of America at Strathmore

Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA) brilliantly performed Children of Eden the afternoon of March 13, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore. Children of Eden is a musical written by Grammy and Oscar-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who over the past four decades has written Godspell (1971), Pippin (1972), and Wicked (2003) among others, and also wrote lyrics for films such as Pocahontas (1995) and The Prince of Egypt (1998). Schwartz, who also served as YAA’s Guest Mentor, was presented with a mentorship award after the performance by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa.

YAA’s Children of Eden, directed and staged by Noah Himmelstein, choreographed by Dana Keane, and conducted by YAA Musical Director Kristofer Sanz, was pure musical enchantment, immensely entertaining, and deeply inspiring.

Composer Stephen Schwartz speaks to the audience before the performance. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Composer Stephen Schwartz speaks to the audience before the performance. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

The production recounts the Bible story of Genesis from the Bible, focusing on the families of Adam and Eve, and Noah and his family. The YAA singers, supported by the YAA Youth Orchestra, conducted by Kristofer Sanz, and the North Bethesda Middle School Chorus (Jason McFeaters, Director) were, to put it succinctly, incredible.

The first song “Let There Be,” was sung by Rolando Sanz, YAA’s Producing Artistic Director, who filled in gloriously for Ken Page as Father (aka God), who was unable to perform due to an injury. Page was the original Father in the inaugural 1991 Royal Shakespeare workshop production of Children of Eden. The song recounted God the Father, speaking the World into existence. To illustrate Creation, a screen projected scenes from nature as Sanz and the multi-color-shirted Storytellers (YAA singers) performed. The scenes shown throughout the show were the brilliant work of Projection Designer Andrew Lazarow.

Ari Goldberg-Helzner (Adam/Noah) and Julia Fanzeres (Eve/Mama Noah). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Ari Goldberg-Helzner (Adam/Noah) and Julia Fanzeres (Eve/Mama Noah). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

“The Naming,” centering on the naming of the animals and plants of the World, was sung wonderfully by Father (Sanz), Adam (Ari Goldbloom-Helzner), Eve (Julia Fanzeres) and the Storytellers. “Grateful Children,” sung by Goldbloom Helzner and Fanzeres, moved the story along. “Father’s Day, performed by Sanz and “The Spark of Creation,” sung by Fanzares, featured strong up-tempo vocals.

The show repeatedly touched on the themes of falling from grace, and whether to obey—or not, Earthly or Heavenly parents. Those themes came to the foreground in the songs, “In Pursuit of Excellence,” sung ‘hiss..terically’ by the Snake (collectively Brenna McFarland, Chloe Friedman, Adalia Jimenez, Sam Nasar, and Ben Newman) and Eve and “A World Without You,” sung by Adam, Father, and Eve. Director Noah Himmelstein cleverly staged the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the song “In Pursuit of Excellence,” by having several t-shirt and jeans-clad Storytellers form a human tree.

After the Fall of Man in the story, the songs “The Expulsion” and “The Wasteland,” sung by Father and the Storytellers, conveyed the somber mood of Adam and Eve as they left the Garden of Eden. “The Wasteland,” in particular, had a mournful Indie Rock tone, which featured soloists Adalia Jimenez, Carleigh Solomon, Danielle Burman, Kevin Key, and Daniel Lamond.

Bobby Gallagher ( Japheth) and Amanda Yuan (Yona). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Bobby Gallagher (Japheth) and Amanda Yuan (Yona). Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

“Close to Home” introduced Young Cain (Will Coffey) and Young Abel (Will Joseloff). The screen displayed a beautiful waterfall to accompany Adam and Eve’s fantastic vocals. “Lost in the Wilderness,” in addition to The Older Abel’s (Ethan Miller) beautiful vocals, featured the Top-Ten radio-quality voice of Bobby Gallagher as The Older Cain. Gallagher can “saang!”

The theme of parental obedience rose again in the lead up to the song “A Ring of Stones,” as the restless Cain wondered “How can there be other people in the World?” But Adam warned his son that “You see the prize but not the dangers” of what lies beyond the titular “A Ring of Stone,” which was sung to great effect by Gallagher, Fanzeres, Miller, and Goldbloom-Helzner. Lazarow cleverly projected a painting of Stonehenge on the screen to help visually illustrate Cain’s frustration.

Powerful, in a sad way, was “The Mark of Cain,” sung by Father and the Storytellers. “Children of Eden,” sung by Eve and the Storytellers, moved my emotions.

The second half opened with the tropical, high-energy, glowing “Generations,” performed by the Storytellers, who also excelled at dancing and movement. “Generations” featured strong solos by McFarland, Jimenez, Edima Essien, and Lily James. The distinctive song “A Piece of Eight” featured a distinctive “bump ba bump ba bump” vocals and beat and the vivacious singing of the Storytellers, Noah (Goldbloom-Helzner), Moma Noah (Fanzeres), Yonah (Amanda Yuan), and Japheth (Gallagher) and Family (Miller as Ham, Kevin Key as Seth, Helen Ferguson as Aphra, and Lindsay Jacobson as Aysha). That song also featured a good solo by Chloe Malouf. Parent\child discord showed up in the storyline again when Noah objected to the union of Japheth and Yonah.

Kristofer Sanz conducting the musicians and the Children's Choir. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Kristofer Sanz conducting. Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

Not all the brilliance was produced by the singers in this production. The instrumental “The Return of the Animals” by the Orchestra was incredible. On the heels of that song came “Stranger to the Rain,” which featured an unbelievably great solo by Yuan.

There was a Romeo and Juliet\West Side Story feel to Japheth and Yonah’s duet “In Whatever Time We Have.” The vocals by  Gallagher and Yuan were spine-tingling.

“The Flood” by Father and the Storytellers capably brought the story along, and “What Is He Waiting For,” sung by Noah and Family, musically invoked the sound and feel of raindrops.

Yuan again sang an outstanding solo in “Sailor of the Skies.” Later Noah lyrically pleads to Father\God to “not make me choose, it’s too much to lose” after being told to disown Japheth and Yonah, in the song “The Hardest Part of Love,” sung divinely by Goldbloom-Helzner.

The singers and musicians of 'The Children of Eden.' Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

The singers and musicians of ‘The Children of Eden.’ Photo by Carmelita Watkinson.

The gospel-filled “Ain’t it Good?, performed by Moma Noah, Noah, Family and Storytellers, rocked the house, and the beautiful and meaningful “In the Beginning,” sung by the entire Company, finished out an enjoyable, professional-quality afternoon of music and singing.

What Young Artists of America delivered in Children of Eden on the Strathmore Stage yesterday afternoon was nothing short of phenomenal. I look forward to attending their future performances.

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.

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Young Artists of America along with the North Bethesda Middle School Chorus performed Children of Eden for one afternoon only on March 13, 2016 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 10701 Rockville Pike, in North Bethesda, MD. For YAA’s future events, visit their website. For future events at The Mansion and The Music Center at Strathmore, go to their calendar of events.

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LINKS:
OTHER YAA REVIEWS ON DCMETROTHEATERARTS:

Jekyll & Hyde Hyde in Concert at Young Artists of America at The Clarice reviewed by Em Skow.

‘West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette at Young Artists of America and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras at Strathmore reviewed by Charles Miller.

‘The Secret Garden in Concert’ at Young Artists of America reviewed by Brent and Linda Stone.

‘Songs For A New World’ at Young Artists of America With Jason Robert Brown reviewed by Joel Markowitz.

Show Boat at Young Artists of America reviewed by Jessica Vaughan.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at Young Artists of America reviewed by Amanda Gunther.

‘Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon’ at YAA and MCYO at The Music Center at Strathmore reviewed by Miriam Urquhart.

Requiem at Young Artists of America reviewed by Miriam Urquhart.

‘MARTYRS’ at Young Artists of America reviewed by Peter Grimm.

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One Response to Review: ‘Children of Eden’ at Young Artists of America at Strathmore

  1. Renee Rabben March 15, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    I was lucky enough to attend this performance & I’m so glad that I did. I’ve never seen anything done by YAA before but now I surely will! The staggering performances from the youth performers in both the cast & orchestra gives me hope for the future of musical theatre & orchestras! The fact that Rolando Sanz had to step in at the last minute to perform the role of Father was inspiring! I would have never known that he was not the original cast member. His voice is sent from the heavens!!! Kristofer Sanz also conducted the orchestra beautifully! You could tell how invested he was in these kids & the music & it shined through. The Sanz brothers are forces to be reckoned with! I was moved throughout the show many times. I can’t wait to see what happens next for these kids & the company in general. Kudos to everyone involved!!

    It was also such a touching moment at the end when Andrew Lippa gave Stephen Schwartz the mentorship award. These two are so involved with the present & future of musical theatre & work closely with these young hopefuls. I felt privileged to even be in the room!