It isn’t often you emerge from a relatively modern musical with sumptuous melodies ringing in your ears. Children of Eden (25 years old and bearing up well) was new to me but I shall long treasure the glorious three four number at the end of the first act beautifully sung by the talented Natasha O’Brien who has enough stage poise for a whole troupe of actors. Then there’s the jolly six eight music as the animals come tripping in merrily and engagingly on the way to the ark. And best of all is O’Brien’s delicious, tantalisingly well paced slow jazz number Ain’t It Good – which owes something to The House of the Rising Sun – before it segues into a catchy swing number with chorus. Yes, Stephen Schwartz’s score is well worth a revival.
The piece is based on Genesis and the creation/destruction stories around Adam and Noah upon which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are based. The reason it works so well today, ancient as these myths are is first that the John Caird’s book and the song lyrics (also by Schwartz) firmly make this a very recognisable family saga and second because there are so many topical resonances. We are still, in 2016, dealing with historic feuds, discrimination and prejudice just as these Biblical characters do in condemning all the descendants of the fratricide Cain. “Our hearts can choose to stop the hatred” is a line in one of Schwartz’s songs. Quite: now as well as then.
There is some fine singing in this show especially from Stephen Barry as Adam and Noah and Daniel Miles who doubles Abel and Ham. It is very much an ensemble piece and there are some imaginative uses of the accomplished cast of eleven by choreographer Lucie Pankhurst who has a way of making her actors perform synchronised circular body sweeps which help to create both atmosphere and character. Also admirable is the strong bold puppetry particularly the swans who fly into the ark (after visiting a few audience members) and the dove who eventually returns with her time honoured olive branch, the symbol of hope for the future.
Congratulations to the four-piece band under Inga Davis-Rutter. They play complex music with hardly a break because the work is almost sung though. There is a little spoken dialogue but it really is a tiny part of the whole. On a personal note I was surprised and delighted to see that three of the band members are women. That’s a 75% representation and unusual in musical theatre.
This was my first visit to the new Union Theatre in its OTR (“Over The Road”) location and I must say it’s a great improvement. Good lavatories, decent foyer area for the café, bar and box office, roomy courtyard outside and pleasing performance space inside the auditorium. I was sorry, therefore, to see it less than half full for the Saturday matinee. I do hope houses are better at other performances because this show deserves to be seem.
First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Children%20of%20Eden&reviewsID=2546