A Timeless Story Told Beautifully

American composer and lyricist Steven Schwartz is known for many an iconic stage musical (GODSPELL, PIPPIN, WICKED) as well as movie scores (HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, POCAHONTAS, PRINCE OF EGYPT). One of his works, CHILDREN OF EDEN (with book by John Caird), isn’t regularly a musical that rushes to mind first when thinking of the composer’s prolific library of work. The late Ron Bright had always wanted to direct the production, but due to several circumstances he was not able to mount the production. In his stead and in his honor, director Mary Chesnut Hicks and the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation have come together to stage a beautiful rendition of CHILDREN OF EDEN at Palikū Theatre, located on the campus of the Windward Community College, running through September 29.

CHILDREN OF EDEN is a retelling, or re-visioning, of the Book of Genesis, specifically of Creation, Adam & Even, and Noah and the Flood. Act One focuses the Father (Chad Atkins) creating the universe and the things that populate it, and finally ending up on creating something in his own image: man. Thus, he creates Adam (Michael Bright) and Eve (Jade Stice), and allows them to occupy the perfect utopia of Eden. However, following an incident regarding a Snake (Rowan Foster) and a gleaming piece of fruit, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and are faced to make their own way on Earth, where it is rough, unfair, and unknown to them. Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain (Drew Bright, Miguel Cadoy III) and Abel (Daniel Guillou, Michael Cabagbag), and the rest of act one follows the family’s trials and tribulations with not only each other, but the rocky relationship they share with the Father. Note: Cain and Abel have not only a young and teenage version, but are also double cast; if you attend consult the playbill for who you are watching that night).

Act Two focuses on the faithful and loyal Noah (Michael Bright), who is in charge of creating an ark to whether a flood. Long after Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel, the world is populous but rife with mistrust, deceit, and sin. The Father plans to start anew, and will bring a flood upon the Earth to cleanse it of its past in order to start fresh, and Noah (along with his family) is tasked with taking in a stock of all the animals in the world, two by two, onto the ark. Noah and his wife are happy that two of their sons have found wives, but grow concerned when their youngest Japeth (Cadoy III) finds love in Yonah (Lauren Cabrera), one of Noah’s servants and one who is connected to the lineage of Cain. The rest of the act tests Noah and his family as to whether or not they will accept someone from a bloodline that the Father forbade and whether or not Noah’s family will even survive the flood.

CHILDREN OF EDEN is a wonderful re-visioning of the early Genesis chapters. When reading the Bible (or having it read to you in church), it can be a stretch to relate to these earlier magical moments of creation, tumult, and life. The writing, simply, is dry, and this musical rectifies that. Through Caird and Schwartz’s book and music, the Father is the widely recognized monotheistic God characterized with recognizable human emotions and flaws, most notably that of a parent. Being a parent is a central theme throughout the production, and viewing not only the Father’s actions but that of Adam, Eve, and Noah & Mother Noah in that context allows for more thought and discussion than that would usually accompany a talk about Genesis. Other themes are also present within the production, such as an examination of what faith to a creator means, the cyclical nature of life, and the unpredictability of how things will actually turn out. CHILDREN OF EDEN is thoughtfully written, and while it may run a little long (the music, while beautiful throughout, is plentiful, sometimes to a fault) it is a fascinating and excellent examination of some of Genesis’ most famous stories.

Hicks’ cast is tremendous, both in number (45+, unless I miscounted) and in talent. The thirteen principals deliver with clarity, strength, and a deep range of honesty and emotion; in an effort not to neglect anyone, I will not be making individual remarks. The majority of the cast (a good 7/8ths I’d say) also share in the production by being storytellers, and these storytellers truly made the production feel alive. The strength of their voices (credit to superb musical direction by Clarke Bright and vocal direction by Dane Ison) and the tightness of their blocking and choreography (credit to eye-catching staging by Hicks and choreography by Marcelo Pacleb) led to beautiful and breathtaking scenes accompanied by wonderful bits of stage magic. The unity, chemistry, and talent in the cast is undeniable and unforgettable, something that is rare with casts this large.

The talent onstage is not the only undeniable aspect onstage. The set design by DeAnne Kennedy is a marvel to witness. All the moving platforms look like deposits of precious metals, there are golden celestial circles amidst the vastness of the universe, and paired with the beautiful and well-fit lighting design by Janine Myers we (and the actors) are brought from location to location, from paradise to a storm, from a hut in the wilderness to the genesis of the universe itself with nothing but light and darkness. Anna Foster’s costume design is inspired, borrowing from various regions of the world to create a look that feels familiar but is untraceable at the same time; the various textures and patterns used tell stories in themselves, and no costume (seems) the same! Lisa Ponce de Leon’s hair and makeup design goes hand in hand with Foster’s designs, bringing these storied characters to life in a grand way. Finally, Annie Yoshida’s beautiful prop design has to be noted- from the simplicity of an offering to the glamour and grandeur of a forbidden fruit, her work helps complete the well-designed package that is CHILDREN OF EDEN.

The level of quality that is present in this show is undeniable. From the acting to the singing to the design work, CHILDREN OF EDEN is a marvel through and through. A thoughtful and fascinating retelling of the early Genesis stories, it speaks to the human condition and breathes life not only into the faith we all may hold, but also into the connections we share with one another. Not to be missed, CHILDREN OF EDEN by the I’m A Bright Kid Foundation is running through September 29 at Palikū Theatre. For tickets, click the link here.