With a plot inspired by the Bible and music by pop productions, Children of Eden is a fascinating show that is given a powerful treatment at Bowling Green State University.
Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics, is much better known for his shows Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked, but Children of Eden is continually compelling, despite some unevenness in the casting.
It's a bit unfair to talk about uneven casting when students perform alongside professionals, but director David Ellison eased the disparity by putting his two best voices in his two strongest characters.
The first is Father, which is another word for God, played by assistant professor of voice David Okerlund. With his powerful baritone, his regal bearing, and his rich costuming, Okerlund dominates just about every scene he is in.
When he doesn't dominate, it is because of Emily Wright, a BGSU graduate with a musical theater specialization. She plays Eve and Mama Noah, and it is in the former role that she challenges Okerlund's charisma.
The play opens with Father creating a beautiful garden and a man and a woman in his own image. They are Adam and Eve, and they are his children.
And like children, they are as different as different can be. Adam (Michael Quinichett) is all smiles, eager to please, eager to be liked and do what his parent wants. Eve, too, is eager to please, but she has a deep sense of curiosity. Her favorite word is "why," and the garden is a wonderful place to explore.
When she spies a tree with glistening fruit, she wants to know what it is, then is dissatisfied when Father tells her to ignore it, it isn't good for her, "because I'm the parent and I know best."
This only compels Eve to explore further, and her curiosity, of course, costs her a place in Eden.
In Schwartz's play and Wright's hands, Eve is a far more sympathetic character than she is often portrayed. Yes, she disobeys, but it isn't because she is innately bad, it is because of her burning desire to learn.
If there is any hubris involved, it belongs to Father. He creates creatures who can reason, then is shocked when they have minds of their own. Isn't that just like a parent?
And when Eve admits to her disobedience, Father reacts with cold fury and a sense of betrayal, without stopping to think about his role in the event.
The second act depicts Noah and the ark, and many of the themes from the first act are echoed in the second. But there is often a sense of fun, a welcome respite from the intensity of what comes before.
When the animals show up, two by two, to board the ark, it is a scene of sheer joy.
The large cast is ably assisted by a 12-piece orchestra that was nearly perfect in accompanying the singers without overpowering them.
Also worthy of mention are the costumes, designed by Laurel Daman. The performers are divided among one of four tribes, and each tribe's garments are a distinctive design.
As members of the chorus step out to become individual characters in the stories, it's fun to figure out which tribes they are from.
The individual singers are, at the least, pleasant and often much better. Only when they must sing with Okerlund or Wright do they pale.
Whether one believes the book of Genesis is a literal history or just an interesting story, Children of Eden is a fascinating show with themes that resonate across generations.
"Children of Eden" continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Eva Marie Saint Theater in University Hall at Bowling Green State University. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 11 and younger. Information: 419-372-2719.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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