More than 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to return to my undergraduate alma mater, Villanova University, to see friends perform in a show that I had never heard of - Children of Eden. I traveled the four hours round-trip that weekend to support my friends. I repeated the journey the following weekend, this time with my family in tow, to experience the show all over again.
It has been my experience that when I attend a theatrical production that profoundly affects me in some way, there are specific images that come to my mind as I recall it. No matter how many years pass, the pictures remain crystal clear. During this production of Children of Eden, I saw (or heard rather, as the performance began in the complete darkness) what only amounted to the first 6-7 lines of the show, and I knew I was hooked. I can still feel the music and voices swirling around me in the darkness, until there was LIGHT.
Thus began my almost 1 1/2 decades-long fascination with this musical. The stories are familiar - the Adam and Eve and Noah and the Ark stories of the Old Testament that so many of us already know. But with a book by John Caird and music and lyrics by the indomitable Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell...), these familiar stories are heightened and infused with moments of comedy and drama. The music is beautiful from start to finish, and manages to strike a balance between simple and stunningly complex.
Children of Eden is a favorite of many, yet has an interesting history. It has never been produced on Broadway. In fact, its off-Broadway production took place right here in NJ at Paper Mill Playhouse - starring well-known performers including Stephanie Mills, Adrian Zmed, and Hunter Foster. The soundtrack (full and highlights) are of this Paper Mill production, which took place in 1997.
Stephen Schwartz himself regards Children of Eden as his favorite of all of his musicals, stating: "I think the work of which I am most proud is Children of Eden, for several reasons. To begin with, I think it's my best score musically. It also contains the song that is maybe my personal favorite of my songs from a purely visceral point of view, "Stranger to the Rain"; a song that embodies how I feel about parenting (which is very important to me), "The Hardest Part of Love"; and above all, the song that most espouses my philosophy of life and which, if I had one song to be remembered by, is the one I would choose: "In the Beginning." (scroll down to watch the video of Stephen Schwartz talking about Children of Eden)
For all Schwartz's popularity and the acclaim that his musicals receive, many are still unfamiliar with Children of Eden. Those of us that adore it find ourselves looking for productions wherever we can find them. I even attended one at Ford's Theatre (yes, THAT Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was shot) back in 2004 (http://www.playbill.com/news/article/children-of-eden-opens-march-30-at-fords-theatre-in-dc-118798).
More than that, though, it has been a personal dream of mine to direct a production of Children of Eden. It has been on my "short list" for about 10 years. How could I not want to produce a show that I not only love so much, but that has so many opportunities for actors of all ages? But it never felt like the right time. Until now...
Because what I love more than anything else about Children of Eden is how it speaks to the heart of what makes each of us human: we are innocent, curious, creative, flawed, mischievous, daring, honest, uncertain, anxious, humble, deceptive, arrogant. We are all of these things, and so much more. And more than anything else, we have free will, and with that comes the responsibility that we control our own actions and our own destiny - and what power and beauty lies in that.
I am thrilled to give my Aspire PAC actors the opportunity to share in a show that means so much to me - and in an experience that will stretch their theatrical abilities and provide them with a memorable experience to last a lifetime.
"There is no journey gone so far...so far we cannot stop and change direction. No doom is written in the stars, it's in our hands. We cannot know what will occur, just make the journey worth the taking. And pray we're wiser than we were in the beginning..."
Schwartz's favorites mentioned above:
Stranger to the Rain
The Hardest Part of Love
In the Beginning
Some of my favorites:
Spark of Creation
Lost in the Wilderness
Children of Eden
Unfortunately, there are no clips of the Paper Mill production, but here is a staged concert on YouTube that does the show some justice...