The Creation story has been spun into a multitude of tales that have captivated audiences for centuries, but few are as entertaining as Ghostlight Theatre's current production of Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden.
In the biblical-story tradition of such classic rock operas as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, Children of Eden tells the stories of Adam and Eve, and Noah. Song and dance combine to deliver a message of hope without losing anything in the telling. The Quad Cities is ripe with talented performers, and one of these is Brian Nelson, who brings a wealth of experience to the role of Father. His rich voice fills the theatre and gives life to the emotions of pride, love, tolerance, and despair. In his reading, it's easy to see the special quality of Children of Eden: its humanity.
Human error is acknowledged, but judgment is reserved. Nelson's performance epitomizes the layers found in a father who loves and worries about his children, and he is fabulous. Tom Brooke and Stephanie Massick pull double duty playing the roles of Adam and Noah, and Eve and Noah's wife. They give just the right amount of innocent mischievousness to Adam and Eve, as well as stoic faithfulness to Noah and his wife. Certainly, at times, our curiosity has gotten us into trouble, but the performances Brooke and Massick give allow the audience to understand and identify with it. Though they seemed to lack the vocal training to carry the gutsier gospel numbers, their ballads, both individually and together, were beautifully sung.
Brooke and Massick weren't the only ones covering two or more roles. The entire cast filled principal positions as well as chorus, and they all did excellent jobs. One of the most notable performances of this group was given by Zach Pethound, whose portrayals of Cain and Japeth were energetic and heartfelt. Pethound's musical abilities brought a grittiness to his numbers that truly fit the "gospel" elements found in Children of Eden.
W.C. Fields once said that an actor should never share the stage with children or animals because they have a tendency to steal the scene. This couldn't have been truer than in Ghostlight's production of Children of Eden. The young storytellers numbered 20, and when they appeared in the aisles dressed as the pairs of animals seeking refuge on Noah's Ark, the audience was captivated. "Oooh"s and "aaah"s accompanied the youngsters across the stage as they gave very real animation to the animals they represented. This is a very long and complicated show, and the children were as professional in their performances as the adults.
A production like Children of Eden requires a seamless blend of music and dance. Achieving this blend can be difficult, particularly when the large cast must fit onto a small stage, but director Jeff Ashcraft handled the challenges admirably. The director's notes indicate that this is the last production Ashcraft will do as the president of Ghostlight Theatre, and he sure is going out with a bang. He coordinated Constance Brady's choreography with Dino Hayz' musical direction into an entertaining evening of story, movement, and song.
Performances of Children of Eden continue November 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Marycrest International University's Upham Hall.