Theatre Review: ‘Children of Eden’ at Aurora Theatre


Aurora Theatre is presenting Stephen Schwartz’ musical “Children of Eden,” directed by Justin Anderson, running through Sept. 1.

Mr. Schwartz, as theatre buffs will know, is the composer of “Pippin,” “Godspell,” and the megahit “Wicked” (usually both music and lyrics), among others. For “Children of Eden” the book is by John Caird.

“Children” is a lush, affectionate paean to part of the Book of Genesis, focusing on the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah and the Flood. The original cast production was developed for the Royal Shakespeare Company and had a brief run in London’s West End. The show hasn’t played Broadway but is very popular in regional productions world-wide.

It’s my understanding that cast albums of “Children of Eden” are rare and hard to find; so I’d like to propose that the outstanding cast that Aurora has assembled make one and distribute it. I’ll leave the legal procedures necessary to the professionals at the theatre. I’ll wager Mr. Schwartz would be delighted with the results; he loves this show.

In the meantime we’ll deal with the lovely production being offered to you at Aurora. If you’re up on your Biblical history, you already know the basic plot; if not, the story has floated around the Zeitgeist long enough that you know most of it anyway. For example, “In the beginning, God…” A good place to start, no? God, called Father (Brad Raymond) in the show, creates his children Adam and Eve to play in the paradisaical Garden, and all is well — for awhile.

Here I must pause: I saw actor/singer Haden Rider play Adam and Noah. The part is usually played by Maxim Gukhman, a versatile actor/singer whose work I have admired for some time; he will also be away for matinees on Aug. 17 and 18; check with the theatre for confirmation.

But the good news is you can’t lose: Mr. Rider, who usually plays Abel/Ham, is superb; more about him shortly. Andrew Lampley, from Aurora’s Apprentice Company, played Abel and Ham. I review the performances I see. By the way, I think this situation says a lot about the richness and depth of Aurora’s talent pool; you may know the theatre is expanding, big-time. Google them.

Back to the show. Father (Mr. Raymond) tells his children not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But Eve (Naima Carter Russell) is especially curious; she can’t resist, and eventually Adam does likewise. They must leave the Garden. Cain (an outstanding Russell Alexander II) and Abel start out as loving brothers; but things fall apart, as you know.

Act II is the story of Noah and the Great Flood. Bible scholars will note there are certain liberties taken here and there; not to worry. This is a story of transcendent spirituality—of love, loyalty, temptation, grace, and forgiveness. It’s hard to imagine anyone’s being offended.

Noah’s wife (Mama) is played by Ms. Russell. Their sons are Ham (Mr. Rider), Japeth (Mr. Alexander), and Shem (Alex Harding). Yonah (Briana Young) is a stowaway and the partner of Japeth (“In Whatever Time We Have” is a touching duet).

In a show full of big-time performing talent, we also have Leslie Bellair, Lauren Hill, Chloe Cordle, Michael Crute, and many other fine actor-singers, all of whom are listed in the program.

I must single out three actors: Brad Raymond’s majestic Father in a very real sense anchors the show. He also possesses an operatic-quality basso profundo voice. Naima Carter Russell (remember her Suzi Bass-winning performance in Aurora’s “Memphis”?) is a marvelous vocalist (“The Spark of Creation,” “Children of Eden”). And I’ve mentioned Haden Rider (Suzi Bass winner for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), an incredibly gifted singer; sometimes he sounds like a vintage phonograph record (that’s a compliment). “Children of Eden” would be well worth seeing for these three alone.

Fortunately, there is much more. How would you stage the creation of the world and an all consuming flood? Aurora’s artists find a way: Shannon Robert, scenic design; Maria Christina Fusté, lighting design; Daniel Terry, sound design; Milton Cordero, projection design; Alan Yeong, costume design. The exotic beauty of the show can be breathtaking.

Choreography by Ricardo Aponte (excellent); musical direction by Ann-Carol Pence (Ms. Pence and Anthony Rodriguez are co-founders, artistic directors, and associate producers of Aurora Theatre). Justin Anderson once again proves himself possibly Atlanta’s most versatile director: He can direct tight, drawing room dramas and huge musicals with equal aplomb.

I didn’t mention the snakes and the storytellers! You’ll have to discover them yourself. Now we won’t pretend that “Children of Eden” is one the top-ten musicals of all time. It doesn’t have the electric tightness of a “West Side Story” or “Gypsy”; I’m not sure what shows do.

But it has a gentleness, a generosity of spirit, real human conflict, and an overarching ambience that a benevolent Presence is causing all things to work out. “I still believe that people are basically good at heart,” said Anne Frank. “Children of Eden” may be just what we need in 2019; I would not miss it.

For tickets and information, visit auroratheatre.com.

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