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Bible aside, 'Eden' enchants


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POSTED: Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Bible has provided the plot and characters for several stage musicals, with "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell" topping the list. "Children of Eden" shares that genealogy, but with no stand-alone hits in the Stephen Schwartz score, it is popular but far less prominent.

               

     

 

"CHILDREN OF EDEN"

        » Place: Army Community Theatre
       

» When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 23

       

» Cost: $12 to $20

       

» Info: 438-4480 or www.armytheatre.com

       

 

       

As luck would have it, Army Community Theatre's production is the second on Oahu this year, and the first by a major community theater group here. As directed by Brett Harwood, and with Megan Mount providing excellent support in her debut as musical director, this "Eden" offers wholesome G-rated musical entertainment for anyone willing to place entertainment over biblical accuracy. The caveat is necessary because John Caird's rewrite of the book of Genesis changes the balance of the stories in significant ways:

» Adam isn't tricked into eating the forbidden fruit. He leaves Eden of his own free will even after God offers to replace Eve with a better wife—Taylor Swift? Beyonce? Bai Ling?—if he stays. This change neatly dodges the old patriarchal canard that women are "responsible" for mankind's fall from grace and puts everything that follows in a different context.

» Cain kills Abel while he is already fighting with Adam. Abel's death is spur-of-the-moment rather than a cold-hearted act of jealousy.

» Noah's three sons were married at the time of the flood, but in Caird's rewrite, one of them is a bachelor who is in love with a (fictional) family servant, Yonah, who is a descendant of Cain. The ugliest moment in the show is when Noah tells the young woman that the family "loves" her but is going to leave her behind to drown because of her ancestry.

Caird's problematic revisionism notwithstanding, Harwood and his talented cast make "Eden" colorful and thought-provoking without showing anything that might cause curious kids to ask their parents awkward questions on the way home.

Larry Paxton stars as Father (God, by another name) and reigns over the show with a superb voice and commanding presence. This is a warm and loving God who suffers when his children disappoint him, and who takes no joy in destroying his creations. However, when Father decides to make it rain there is no question that he means business.

Madison Eror (Yonah) stands out with her poignant solo, "Stranger to the Rain," as she faces death. Jose Ramon Rustia Ver (Japheth) joins her to make "In Whatever Time We Have" a powerful duet.

Robin Janse (Mama Noah) makes her ACT debut count when she leads the cast in a rocking gospel number, "Ain't It Good," as Noah and his family celebrate their survival and the renewal of life on Earth.

ACT veteran Philip Amer Kelley earns his time in the spotlight as the hissing snake who encourages Eve to satisfy her curiosity.

The costumes suggest a bazaar of Third World cultures. God's fashion designer is apparently Turkish or Arabian, young Adam and Eve wear what appear to be karate gis, and the singing "storytellers" have loose-fitting attire reminiscent of some contemporary Christian sects. Later scenes suggest admixtures of traditional Indian and African attire.

Imaginative animal costumes enliven two scenes with designs that would do "Lion King" or "On Dragonfly Wings" proud. Katherine L. Jones' choreography adds life and interest to several of the colorful crowd scenes.