The Impotence of Being Earnest
Children of Eden is a very literal rendition of two Bible stories -- those of the Garden of Eden and Noah's flood. These narratives provide a good excuse for colorful props and costumes, a large cast and lots of ecstatic singing. Other than that, it's hard to figure out a reason for this retelling, and there's a soft-focus, Hallmark-card feeling to the entire proceeding: no edge, no wit, no surprises. God's problems with Adam and Eve are implicitly compared to the travails of any father trying to keep his unruly brood together, and in all of the carry-on about the tribe of Cain and whether or not one of his descendants should be allowed on the ark, there's something being said about race. God himself, as depicted here, has many flaws. He is willing to give Adam and Eve everything they need and desire, but only at the expense of their creativity and curiosity. He explodes into rage when he finds out that Noah's son Japheth loves the Cain-tainted Yonah. In other words, he's not only overprotective, narrow-minded and as secretive as John Ashcroft, he's a racist and a kvetch.
This could be the basis for an interesting meditation on the nature of godhead and how we humans perceive God. It could make us think about the way ideas of God have changed through the centuries, from the willful deities of the Greeks and Romans to the terrible avenger of the Old Testament and the gentle redeemer of the New. But if these thoughts crossed the minds of writer John Caird and composer Stephen Schwartz, they didn't linger. Mostly the pair are just telling the story as given, using such rounded, ersatz-biblical phrases as "You must have faith in me, Cain" and "Don't cry, my daughter."
I actually enjoyed the flow and energy of the first twenty minutes or so, confident that something would happen -- a genuine insight, a spurt of humor, an unexpected interpretation. Perhaps the scene would switch and we'd find a modern family exploring the same issues that absorbed Adam and Eve. But with Children of Eden, what you see early on is what you get. And keep on getting.
This is a shame, because the Arvada Center has assembled one of the best casts I have ever seen on a local stage. The voices alone could bring you to tears. James Alexander brings an imposing presence and a rich, beautiful baritone to the role of God; once he opens his mouth, you want him to sing forever. Steven Bograd, who plays Adam and Noah, is also a fine vocalist. Gabrielle Goyette (Eve, Mama Noah) is funny, appealing and emotionally resonant, with a voice that floods the auditorium with molten joy on the gospel-flavored "Ain't It Good?"
And the principals are not alone. Everywhere you look, you'll find riches among the cast members, whether operatic-quality voices, balletic dance moves or just sheer exuberance and charm. Topping that off are imaginative prop animals and an elegantly designed and flexible set.
It's a pleasure to see people of so many differing backgrounds and ethnicities working together as an ensemble, but it's also oddly reminiscent of the old Pepsi commercial in which "we" -- whoever "we" were -- were going to "teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." The show flattens differences and ignores complexities just as the ad did, providing a sugary feel-good tingle that vanishes the minute you leave the auditorium -- though I did feel a second's nostalgia realizing that the old Pepsi ad, superficial and dishonest though it may have been in its evocation of universal peace, would never fly in these xenophobic times.
Musicals at the Arvada Center have always been loud, but the sound system has been rejiggered, and now the decibels positively howl. Perhaps sound designer Fredrick W. Boot thinks his audience has been been dulled by rock concerts or is so ancient that it's stone deaf. I found myself flinching whenever the singers geared up for one of those throbbing climaxes, and there was a thickness in my ears for hours after the show.
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