Theater review: Cast enthusiasm lifts CenterPoint’s ‘Children of Eden’

Published: Saturday, June 28 2014 12:30 p.m. MDT

“Children of Eden,” through July 19; CenterPoint Legacy Theatre's Barlow Main Stage, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville; 7:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; $17-$22 (801-298-1302 or centerpointtheatre.org)

God said, “Let there be light.” And once there was light, he said, “Whoa! That’s bright.”

“Children of Eden” is the Book of Genesis according to Stephen Schwartz, composer of the megahits “Wicked,” “Pippin” and a few blockbuster Disney features, and scriptwriter John Caird of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Two famous families are the primary focus — Adam’s in Act 1 and Noah’s in Act 2 — and it’s a muddled, overwrought retelling.

Director Alane Schultz confidently embraces the pageant-style musical in CenterPoint Theatre’s solid production of “Children of Eden.” Under musical direction by Julie Waite, the voices are strikingly beautiful and contribute much to the swiftly paced staging.

While burdened with a floor-length Nehru jacket and a lighted staff, Daniel Frederickson dignifies the role of Father, the show’s God figure. He is blessed with an impressive, rich baritone voice that fills the theater with magnificent tones. Frederickson anchors the production with his powerful stage presence.

As written, Father can be described as tyrannical — impatient with the questions he is asked, vindictively reacting on occasion and spitefully withholding answers at other times. With sensible acting choices, Frederickson softens these traits to make the character more of a loving observer. But lyrics can’t be rewritten. Near the musical’s end, the cast sings “And if we hear a voice / If he speaks again, our silent father / All he will tell us is the choice / Is in our hands.” Referring to the now-silent Father, Noah's wife tells him, “You must be the Father now.”

The producers chose to make a pre-curtain announcement that the show is not biblically correct.

Father is the only character that appears in both acts, and the other actors take on two roles — Ricky Parkinson plays Adam and returns in the second act as Noah, and Megan Cash is Eve, who then becomes Noah’s wife, Mama Noah. These two actors handle their roles well and sing admirably. Cash’s solo, “Ain’t It Good,” is a comes-out-of-nowhere blues ballad. But more strange is “Generations,” sung by the ensemble, set to a calypso beat.

Another actor making a strong impression is Jason Baldwin as Cain/Japheth. As Cain, Baldwin sings a lovely “Lost in the Wilderness.” The role of Yonah, a character created as a love interest for Japheth, is played by Brittany Bowman Anderson. Her “Stranger to the Rain” is heartfelt.

The bouncy ensemble is large, and choreographer Kristi Shaw has taught those in it to move well on stage, with her joyful dances involving a lot of arm-waving. In “The Return of the Animals,” the talent of props supervisor Jackie Smith is exhibited in the imaginative creations that march two by two into the ark. The costumes by Sandy Hunsaker have brilliant colors without a concept to match the brilliance of the hues.

The theme that is central to both acts is the difficulty parents have in letting their children live their own lives — nicely summed up in the show’s strongest composition, “Hardest Part of Love,” with its lyrics “But you cannot close the acorn / once the oak begins to grow / and you cannot close your heart / to what it fears and needs to know / that the hardest part of love / is letting go.”

“Children of Eden” would be a more rewarding theater piece if a few of the other songs could approach the simple beauty of “Hardest Part of Love” — an important element when the musical is nearly entirely sung-through. Some of the songs are vapid and unmemorable.

The eager-to-please CenterPoint cast members are wholly invested in their performances, though, and their vigor elevates “Children of Eden.”

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