The team behind Children of Eden have plenty of creative cred; that's one thing in its favor. And then there's the backhanded compliment that the show isn't likely to turn you into a whooping, fundamentalist Bible-thumper. No, while the musical is about the Book of Genesis, it has a sense of humor. And it mines myth-ology more than religiosity in coming up with a rollicking good story about the age-old conflict between parents and children.
The Courthouse Center for the Arts, in West Kingston, is staging it through October 23. The book is by John Caird (Les Miserables), with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell).
If the show has a golly-gee earnestness to it, despite the musical professionalism, it's because it was originally written for a high school theater camp in Illinois, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, no less. When you think about it, that hardly trivializes its own genesis, but rather suggests how impressive the original production must have been to be picked up by musical theater superstars. The only reason the polished version didn't get to Broadway in 1991 was because the Persian Gulf War killed the transatlantic tourist business for London's West End, where it premiered and promptly folded.
The first act is about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. The second tells the story of Noah and the flood and the archetypal family feud that resulted.
A choir-quality company of more than two dozen, plus a children's ensemble of extras, certainly gives a sense of vitality to the proceedings. When the Father (Douglas Hummel-Price) gives Adam (Russell M. Maitland) and Eve (Angela Foley) the task of naming the animals, the tykes come in handy with their various masks and headgear, as they do later when the Ark is being populated.
Most of the principal voices are exquisite. Hummel-Price has a resonant, honeyed tenor that would make reciting Klingon proclamations sound sweet, and he throws in an intelligent acting presence. Also worth singling out for their vocal chops are Foley as Eve and Mama Noah, and Christine Treglia in Act Two, as the Noahs' innocently dangerous daughter-in-law.
You have to hand it to a show that presents God as vulnerable. We're tipped off from the beginning, of course, since he is billed as "Father." "What good is a universe with no one to give it to?" he (sorry, He) laments. Perhaps it should be "Daddy," though, since Father observes of the First Couple, "I think he has my nose; I think she has my dimple." He's going to have trouble with the vivaciously curious Eve, God knows, when she responds "Why not?" to his instructions to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge. When Eve sings of the "spark of creation" within her, she is referring to imagination rather than fertility.
Banishment or not, if the original Eve were as spunky as Foley makes her, our species might end up doing okay. Similar in spirited fire is the hot-tempered Cain, convincingly conveyed and strongly sung by Richard Bento. When God says to him and Abel (Adam Cavalieri) that he will choose wives for them, Cain is annoyed and says he wants to choose for himself, foreshadowing trouble.