“And God said, Let us make man in our image. . . .”
Stephen Schwartz waited 20 years to bookend “Godspell,” the New Testament musical, with “Children of Eden,” based on the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Not surprisingly, hippie-pop “Godspell” was a greater commercial success than “Children of Eden,” which opened and closed on London’s West End in early 1991, never to reach Broadway. Some blamed it on the first Gulf War depressing ticket sales. More likely it’s the unappealing depiction of God, the Father, as a vengeful deity.
“Godspell,” which received a joyful resurrection at Theatre Three during Lent, contrasts spiritually with “Eden,” which opened during Passover at Cultural Arts Playhouse’s new Syosset home, performed by a large, exuberant cast, briskly codirected by Tony Frangipane and Diane Marmann.
God arrived just before opening-night curtain with barely enough time to change into his tunic before the “Children of Eden” band led by Matt DeMaria struck the first chords of “Let There Be.” Bruce Grossman as God, addressed throughout as Father, strikes an authoritarian tone with rich notes embellished by video projections suggesting the beginning of time. Sturdy Danny Amy as Adam and willowy Ashley Nicastro as Eve make “Grateful Children” — dutiful Adam more so than Eve, who’s always asking why. Curiosity kills paradise when Eve bites into fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and God casts them into the wilderness. Adam will not forsake Eve even as God offers him a plea deal.
The begetting begins with rebellious Cain (Zack Aretakis as a bad-boy heartthrob with a ringing tenor) and obedient Abel (Warren Tierney). After Cain kills Abel, his descendants are cursed by the mark of his sin. To destroy their race, God brings on the Great Flood in Act II and commands Noah (beleaguered Amy) to build the Ark. His headstrong son (Aretakis) stows away his intended marked-by-Cain bride (Amanda Mac). Will she walk the plank or will Noah defy Father? Taneisha Corbin as Mrs. Noah responds with a rousing “Ain’t It Good?,”— filling the room with her voice, upstaging even God, who’s the one who learns a lesson in humility. What good is obedience if the child lacks the free will to disobey?
As any parent realizes sooner or later, kids will do their own thing. Back to the Garden? Not likely. Still, “Eden’s” time may be now.