At the Astoria Performing Arts Center in a converted auditorium of the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church there was much excitement and anticipation as we awaited the beginning of this year’s musical production of “Children of Eden” – Based on a concept by Charles Lisanby with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz who is otherwise known as the creator of “Wicked” – the hugely successful Broadway musical phenomenon and what there is of a book by John Caird who has “Les Miserables” and “Nicholas Nickleby” highlighting his resume.
Last year APAC produced one of the finest productions of “Ragtime” I have ever seen. It was incredible.
They obviously enjoy the monumental task and challenge of mounting large musicals in a small space. But I’m afraid lightning has not struck twice.
Despite the fact that the same extremely talented director, Tom Wojtunik, has assembled another excellent cast and design team – the set by Michael P. Kramer runs the length of the auditorium on multiple levels and playing areas that has the cast scurrying about within inches of the audience that sit on comfortable folding chairs surrounding the stage three quarters – “Children of Eden” is a remarkable and ambitious production of a less than remarkable (read mediocre) musical which sets endless unmemorable tunes, to the Book of Genesis – loosely adapted to fit the requirements of its writers.
Act I finds Adam (Joseph Spieldenner) and Eve (Emmy Raver-Lampman) in the Garden of Eden as brother and sister – being created simultaneously by Father (James Zannelli). They ask many questions, name animals, marry, eat the forbidden glistening fruit, sire Young Cain (Daniel Henri Luttway) and Young Abel (Zekari Jackson) who are in turn played by Alan Shaw and Stephen Gelpi respectively and continue through with rhyming couplets until the murder of Abel. Act I ends with an American Idol moment.
In Act II we have the story of Noah and the Flood with the lead actors doubling in the major roles. Adam with a beard as Noah. Eve without a wig as his wife. Cain becomes Japheth, falling in love with Yonah from the house of Cain (Stacie Bono). Who expected that destruction would be more exciting than creation but Act II fares much better with its ingenious parade of the animal puppets (designed by Hunter Kaczorowski) onto the arc which rivals The Lion King within a much smaller budget but with tons more imagination.
It’s a long, almost three hour show and were it not for the designers, the musicians, excellent direction and choreography (Christine O’Grady) and the cast APAC would be in trouble. But the cast is uniformly excellent with Alan Shaw and Stacie Bono as the lovers in Act II taking home the honors. They both have fine voices, act with honest conviction and have that most important ingredient to flesh out a memorable performance – passion. Their duet “In Whatever Time We Have” is just about perfect. Another standout is Kyle Hines. He is believable throughout in his supporting role as one of the eight Storytellers.
I eagerly await APAC’s next musical production. Hopefully they will choose carefully and wisely to make all their ambitious efforts worth while. Through May 22.
www.apacny.org Photo: Jen Maufrais Kelly
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