Wow! For a
Stephen Schwartz musical that has never played Broadway, the I’m a Bright Kid Foundation-produced “Children of Eden,” continuing Fridays through Sundays through Sept. 29 at Paliku Theatre, is a sumptuous and soaring concoction with a jolt of vocal and choreographic fireworks.
With a book by John Caird, the familiar tale plays like a Great White Way jewel. It’s based on the first nine chapters of the Book of Genesis; it’s a roller coaster ride through familial relationships and values, tackling complicated life issues.
For director Mary Chesnut Hicks, this was a daunting project with personal baggage; she knew that Ron Bright, her mentor and inspiration to generations of actors, wanted to do this show, but couldn’t (he died on Nov. 26, 2015). The show, she said, is a gift to him.
“‘Children of Eden’ is one of the most difficult musicals I have ever worked on,” said Hicks. “The vocal harmonies alone are incredibly difficult, as well as the orchestration, and the way it is written, with several actors playing entirely different characters in Act 1 and Act 2, is almost never the case in a (traditional) musical.”
She was blessed to have Timothy Bright, a Bright grandson, as her assistant director; he was here on a brief vacation.
“Timothy not only has extensive training in theater — he is completing his last semester at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, and spent a semester studying and performing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London — but spent many, many years watching a genius (his popo) at work, attending rehearsals from the time he was very young,” Hicks said. “Timothy’s approach to directing complemented mine very well, since he approaches everything as an actor. I tend to look at the overall picture and imagery, influenced by the music; he was an invaluable asset to this production.”
The two-act show — the first about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, the second about Noah’s Ark and the floods — features an impressive 50-member cast of Storytellers, plus a nucleus of seasoned soloists delivering passionate vocals.
>> Chad Atkins (Father, aka God), who appears in both acts, demonstrates paternal leadership; his “Let There Be” opening number, with the full ensemble, sets the tone of what will happen in the Garden of Eden.
>> Michael Bright (Adam) and Jade Stice (Eve) are at odds over the lessons of life, embracing curiosity and temptation regarding tasting the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Bright, at his career-best, tackles the uncertainty of his life with Eve, and Stice has key vocals reflecting hope and confusion. Perfect together, they represent the yin and yang of right versus wrong.
>> Rowan Foster (Snake) is riveting and a threatening delight, encircled by her snake colleagues, on the vivid “In Pursuit of Excellence,” wooing Eve to take a bite from the apple and indulge in its nectar.
>> Miguel Cadoy III (Cain) provides dramatic tension and is assertive and domineering with a commanding presence, in conflict with Michael Cabagbag (Abel). On opening night, sobs of pain could be heard in the audience, mourning the climactic stoning of Abel by Cain.
>> In Act 2, a thousand years later, Bright (Noah) raises the rafters vocally as the skipper of the ark. There’s dissension, when Cadoy (as Japeth, one of Noah’s three sons), procrastinates in selecting his service woman wife Lauren Cabrera (Yonah); a stowaway on the ark, she blames herself for the 40 days of rain and floodwaters.
>> Jade Anguay Bright (Mama Noah) is an emerging force and the voice of empowerment, delivering “Ain’t It Good,” a soulful declaration of a new life in a new land — clearly, the chicken-skin moment of the show.
Marcelo Pacleb’s robust choreography is supported by enthralling orchestral direction by Clarke Bright and astounding choral contributions by Dane Ison.
The show is awash in splendor, thanks to eye-filling costumes in appealing palettes by Anna Foster and an inventive and functional set by DeAnne Kennedy comprising various sizes of “box” connections that rotate manually to swiftly provide different platforms for the ample cast, who shine underneath the precise lighting (by Janine Myers) and crisp sound (by Steven Nelson). And isn’t that fabric ark fantastic?
The Cain-Abel clash is not suitable for the very young; “Children” otherwise is a family production with life-teaching and conflict-resolving elements reflecting the legacy of director Bright.
Young ones will take delight in the ark animals, notably two giraffe figures on stilts; numerous headpieces signifying the creatures — antelopes to zebras — define the breeds.
“There are nights I cannot hold back the tears, as I sit in the chair that Mr. B used every night,” said Hicks. “So this is all for him, a story about family and very fitting since almost every member of his family is either on stage or in the (orchestra) pit, except for Aunty Mo (Bright’s widow, Moira), who sits besides me at every performance. This is all for him.”
Tickets: imabrightkid.org/tickets …
And that’s “Show Biz.”
Wayne Harada is a veteran entertainment columnist. Reach him at 266-0926 or email@example.com.