Los Angeles Theater Review: CHILDREN OF EDEN (Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks)

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by Tony Frankel on April 11, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


You would think that if Stephen Schwartz (composer/lyricist of Pippin and Wicked) wrote a musical with John Caird (adapter of Les Misérables and Candide), we would have seen a production of it — or at least heard of it. But shows that haven’t played Broadway rarely make it into the public consciousness. Caird’s book of Children of Eden retells the first nine chapters of the Book of Genesis, specifically the tales of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve & Cain and Abel in the wilderness (Act I), and Noah and the Ark (Act II) (the story of creation opens the show).

Adam, Father & Eve

It played 103 performances in London, 1991, was retooled by the authors, and later staged at the Paper Mill Playhouse for six weeks in 1997 (both productions were recorded). Given the show’s variables, productions can be massive or small (add a chorus, cast anywhere from about 20 to 65 actors of any race, size, and age to play humans and creatures alike). Schwartz’s tunes are always pleasant though not always engaging; the story is told by both chorus and soloists; the score is a fun hodgepodge from jaunty jazz to soaring ballads with elements of pop/rock, gospel, and African and Caribbean rhythms. Compared to Schwartz’s New Testament musicalizations, it ain’t as infectious as Godspell but it’s far more accessible than Mass (written with Leonard Bernstein).


Bottom line is that the show is infinitely better than the Crock of Ages and Bull Shrek currently dominating Broadway, but its simply too intractable (and a bit precious… and there are a few dramatic inconsistencies…) to produce for the Great White Way (maybe John Doyle will have a go at it some day). Thus, it has played at high schools, churches, and — if you’re lucky enough to be in the Los Angeles area through April 17 only — you can catch Cabrillo Music Theatre’s behemoth, charming version which utilizes nearly 100 cast and crew members. It will lift your spirits and break your heart at once.

Eve, Young Cain, Young Abel, Adam

The combination of professional actors, astounding non-Equity talent, and community players are perfectly suitable for Children of Eden. The talent is phenomenal: Misty Cotton, fresh off her spectacular turn in Carrie (Eve/MamaNoah), Kevin McMahon (Adam/Noah), and Norman Large (Father), with equally stunning turns from Ryan J. Driscoll (Cain) and Natalia Vivino (Yonah). Meant in a good way, Jeff Cason’s sets/projections, Noelle Claire Raffy’s costumes, and Alex Choate’s props look like high school on steroids (some of the clever animal outfits are of The Lion King variety). Jonathan Burke’s outstanding sound and Christina L. Munich’s rich lights offer the necessary balance. Diction can be spotty from some of the smaller roles, but at least I can hear that I didn’t hear every word.

Yonah, Japheth, Mama Noah, Noah

It’s understandable given this leviathan outing that director Lewis Wilkenfeld was relegated to traffic cop direction — I missed subtlety (Cotton and McMahon as young children didn’t land right somehow), a through-line (the show begins with Father telling a bedtime story to two girls but they never return), and there was sometimes a lack of guidance (Michelle Elkin’s jazzy choreography seemed incongruous next to Adam’s furry shin-coverings). In this case, these are minor objections.

Father and the Children

The beginning was so literal (“Let There Be”) that I was sure I would not get on board. But soon it’s clear the creators’ intention — here are parables that elucidate the universality of the human condition: fathers who make mistakes and the inheritance of those “sins” by the next generation (the Father here is equally secular and holy); strong-willed children who question and disobey; forgiveness versus punishment; forging new belief systems from those we inherit; etc. And how’s this for variables to the Biblical tales? Adam and Eve seem to discover sex before eating the apple; after Eve eats the apple, God tries to persuade Adam to stay in Eden; and Cain discovers “A Ring of Stones” that sound a lot like Stonehenge, suggesting some other god may have staged another creation nearby (it’s a relief to see that the world wasn’t populated through incest after all!).


And when Eve approaches the Tree of Knowledge and sings the tuneful “The Spark of Creation,” it’s reminiscent of Pippin’s “Corner of the Sky”; regardless of what we’re told, there’s a fire that burns inside all of us to want more, better, different — whatever the cost. And when she closes the first act with the titular song, I dare you not to well up hearing the sweet simplicity of Schwartz’s lyrics: “You will know heartache; Prayers that don’t work; And times of bitter circumstances…But I still believe in Second Chances.” She could be speaking of the theater.


Japheth & Yonahphotos by Ed Krieger

Children of Eden
Cabrillo Music Theatre
Scherr Forum at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
ends April 17, 2016
for tickets, call 800.745.3000 or visit Cabrillo

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