Children of Eden

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Combining singing, dancing and acting in a way BYU has not done in years, “Children of Eden” is an emotional, exuberant piece that leaves its audience in high spirits — a truly uplifting work that entertains as well as it enlightens.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Godspell,” Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) and book by John Caird, “Children of Eden” uses biblical stories — mixed with clever humor and joyful light-heartedness — to present universal truths about family and children.

The first act deals with Father (Dallyn Bayles) — he’s not called “God” until the second act — creating the Earth and Adam (Matthew Herrick) and Eve (Joy Rodgers Gardner) with it. His reason for wanting kids? “They will keep me company, they will keep me young,” Bayles sings as the Father, his rich, powerful voice booming with authority and love.

There’s a reason they avoid calling him “God”: He’s not quite perfect. He’s more a parental prototype, the First Dad: Adam and Eve are later heard to tell Cain (Jason Celaya) and Abel (Paul Canaan) the exact things that Father once said to them, and to make some of the same mistakes.

Herrick and Gardner have stunning voices, and their fumbling to be good parents is achingly poignant. This is the only show in recent memory that had audience members already crying by intermission, instead of just at the very end.

The second act begins with a decidedly lighter tone, and while it gets more serious as time goes on, it never reaches the heights (or depths, if you will) of emotional heartache that Act One had. This is not a flaw, however; in fact, it’s better that way, what with Act One being so overwhelming.

Act Two has Noah (Norris Chappell, Jr.) dealing with a rebellious son: Japheth (Carlos L. Encinias) insists on marrying outside the faith. (In the Bible, it was Ham who did this, and while all the other liberties taken with the Genesis account are fine in the context of story-telling and artistic license, this one seems strangely arbitrary.)

It is Noah who learns what the parents all along have been reaching toward: that while they want their children to be happy, they have to let go and let them make their own mistakes. The Father character learns this, too, and the show’s finale is transcendently powerful, as is the whole show.

A talented cast of dancers and singers perform as supporting characters, animals and pieces of scenery, and they do it with fantastic grace and fluidity. From the show’s first moment until the last, there is movement and beauty all over the stage. For once it is difficult to say which element of the show is most accomplished: the acting (directed by Tim Threlfall), the singing (music director Randy Boothe) or the choreography (by Rebecca Wright Phillips). All are breath-takingly magnificent, and blend together in a manner rarely seen in this valley.

“Children of Eden” is easily among the top five shows produced anywhere in Utah this year. See it, and prepare to be blown away.

My goodness, what a show. This was the sort of show that by intermission, I knew I'd be giving it a standing ovation (the rest of the audience joined me in that, fortunately).

It has long been the joke at BYU that the Music/Dance/Theater program is named in order of importance -- that is, most of the students in it are great singers, really good dancers, and bad actors. That has begun to turn around, though, as evidenced by this show. Most of the cast members were MDT majors and/or Young Ambassadors (which are NOTORIOUS for being bad actors). There are apparently some MDT/YA people who can sing, dance and act, because they were in this show.

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