Children of Eden Was a Blessed Event at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater
Musicals are like hothouse flowers. They can take years of tender care to make blossom. Children of Eden is a full length musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) and book by John Caird, which has been germinating since its inception as a project for a high school theater camp in 1986. It received its first full production in 1991 under Caird’s direction in London for the Royal Shakespeare Company, but closed quickly in the wake of generally negative reviews.
However, everything has its season. I think this is the time for Children of Eden to blossom on the Broadway stage…or at least, Broadway in Chicago. This presentation is the admirable effort of Producer Mark Michelson’s Chicago Theater Fund, and Onesti Entertainment, the company of entrepreneur Ron Onesti, who has purchased both the Arcada Theater in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theater with an eye towards bringing first class entertainment to these suburban Chicago venues.
They had originally planned to present a pre-Broadway production at the Arcada with Broadway veteran Norm Lewis, which was sidelined by the pandemic. So it is to their credit that they have taken this unusual step forward by presenting a fully staged concert at one of Chicago’s major Broadway style venues, the Cadillac Palace Theater. Children of Eden was given two performances there last Saturday in the hope of launching towards a major run. If the quality of this concert version is any indication, a Broadway run could well be in its future.
Children of Eden, based on the biblical book of Genesis, begins with the creation of the world, through the fall from the Garden of Adam and Eve, the murder of Abel and the mark of Cain, and the salvation of the human race through the Ark of Noah. It’s necessarily a more reverent and somber show than Schwartz’s other religious themed musical, Godspell. But hey, we’re talking Old Testament God of Vengeance vs. warm and fuzzy You-know-who. It was also written some twenty years later by a more mature and seasoned artist.
This production, billed as a concert, would have qualified as a full production in my mind if not for the books in hand, and the music stands that came in and out. Kyle Hass (Artistic Producer), Derek Van Barham (Director), and Nicholas Ranauro (Choreographer) created a richly beautiful evening in light, movement and song, so much so that any more scenery would really have seemed superfluous. The show began with some of the the most beautiful and awe inspiring projections I’ve seen on any stage, filling the theater with the wonder of Creation, the beauty of the Garden, and the pain of its destruction. An onstage chorus of over 30 actor/dancers was supplemented at the end of the first act by a small army of local choristers lining the theater walls. Whether collectively representing the Snake in the Garden, or dancing in Fosse-esque costumes, this talented ensemble brought every sung and spoken image vibrantly to life. Their soloists also all gave beautiful vocal performances.
Leading the outstanding cast of players was the magnificent actor-singer Randal Keith. Mr. Keith logged nearly three thousand performances as Jean Valjean in Les Miz, one of which I was privileged to see some fifteen years ago in Los Angeles, not to mention playing the Phantom and three of the other principal roles in the touring company. In short, this man has major chops. His powerful baritenor voice was the glue that held this company together.
As the show illustrates, it’s not easy being God. On one hand, God manages to be what we all want our parents to be: Loving and kind, warm and well-meaning. On the other hand, this God shares the flaw of all parents: That he wants his children to be copies in his image, and expects them to bend entirely to his will throughout their lifetimes. We all know how well that turned out.
In their dual roles as Adam/Noah and Eve/Mama Noah respectively, David Phelps, formerly of the Gaither Vocal Band, with his creamy, three octave voice, and Grammy winning artist Michelle Williams were equally beautifully voiced as singers and nuanced as actors. Particularly strong among the supporting roles was internet singing sensation Sam Tsui as Cain/Japheth. Mr. Tsui is a young tenor with a powerful emotional range. He is also a very compelling actor, who galvanized the attention of the audience as the darkest and most challenged characters in the story. As Yonah, the“daughter of the race of Cain” who throws a rock into God’s plans to maintain the purity of the human race, American gospel singer Koryn Mattanah Hawthone sang well and was credibly sincere as an actress, although the thinly written part didn’t give her much chance to shine.
The prayerful origins of this show make the material very reverent, and at times simplistically straight forward in its observations. The female characters in particular are nothing more than good wives and mothers, and there is no modern perspective challenging their thinking, or their traditional roles. Don’t come looking for the “woke” bible here.
But Children of Eden is, in its own way, a very good show, and its popularity in amateur productions attests to that. However, despite a handful of compelling songs that have made it into the musical theater zeitgeist, like “Lost in the Wilderness,” It’s not as memorable or well known musically as other scores by Schwartz. The analogies drawn between God the Father and parents in general in the book and lyrics may not be as wittily observed as in a Sondheim show; but they are still compelling. Even as a concert version it is a stirring and engrossing entertainment. If you come to this production hoping to be moved and awe struck, you will be. Just don’t come looking for the sacrilegious snark of The Book of Mormon.
At the end of Children of Eden, God accepts the faults, errors in judgment, and determined independence of man. He makes his peace with the idea that we won’t always do what he wishes, and forgives us for that. But every time I listen to the news these days, I wonder if God might change his mind again. As I look at the increasingly troubled world around us, I can’t help but wonder if we should be building another ark. I often ask myself not if, but when, the wrath of God will return. Seeing this show in this beautiful revival made me reflect on that question even more deeply.
So it will do you well to plan a pilgrimage to a performance of Children of Eden when it returns again. Just don’t eat that apple before you come.
The Glorious Corner
SLY REVIVED — (via Rolling Stone) Sly Stone, the enigmatic R&B/funk icon, will share his story in a new memoir, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), arriving Oct. 17 via Questlove’s new publishing imprint, AUWA Books.
Stone co-wrote the new book with Ben Greeman, who’s written memoirs with George Clinton, Brian Wilson, and Questlove (he helped the Roots drummer with his three other books, too). Questlove — who’s directing a documentary about Stone — will also pen a foreword for Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).
In a statement, Stone said, “For as long as I can remember folks have been asking me to tell my story. I wasn’t ready. I had to be in a new frame of mind to become Sylvester Stewart again to tell the true story of Sly Stone. It’s been a wild ride and hopefully my fans enjoy it too.”
Born Sylvester Stewart, Stone’s music career began when he was a child, singing in a gospel quartet with his siblings. In the Sixties, he worked as a radio DJ in the Bay Area, forming various soul groups, including the extremely successful Sly and the Family Stone. The group’s debut,A Whole new Thing, arrived in 1967, and that same year they released their first major hit, “Dance to the Music,” which anchored the band’s second album. Between 1967 and and 1982, Sly and the Family Stone released 10 albums, including classics like Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin; On.
But after the dissolution of the Family Stone, Stone struggled to find success as a solo artist while simultaneously battling drug addiction. Though he got sober, he receded from public life, making only sporadic appearances, like the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a performance at the 2006 Grammys. In 2011, Stone released a new solo album, I’m Back! Family and Friends; in 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) is one of several books on the initial slate for Questlove’s new AUWA Books venture. (The Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint takes its name, by the way, from the bird-call noise Prince used on songs like “Baby I’m a Star” and “Eye No.”) Also on the docket: Questlove’s new book, Hip-Hop Is History, and a book from TikTok star Drew Afualo (both out in 2024).
This is major news for sure. If you’re of a certain age, Sly Stone’s music was the best. The true of story of what actually happened should be cataclysmic. The stories I’ve heard over the years encompass almost everything good and bad about the music industry. I hope the curtain is finally pulled back in this instance.
TICKET TO YOUNG — (Via Ultimate Classic Rock) Count Neil Young among those musicians who blame escalating ticket prices for ruining the concert industry. “It’s over. The old days are gone,” Young declared in a message posted to his Neil Young Archives website. “I get letters blaming me for $3,000.00 tickets for a benefit I am doing. That money does not go to me or the benefit. Artists have to worry about ripped off fans blaming them for Ticketmaster add-ons and scalpers.”
The acclaimed rocker’s message was accompanied by a story about the Cure and their recent battle with Ticketmaster. The ticketing giant earned the scorn of the goth rock band and their fans by adding several fees to ticket prices for the Cure’s upcoming North American tour. In some cases, these “unduly high” fees, as Robert Smith called them, resulted in the actual price of tickets nearly doubling from their face value. Ticketmaster eventually agreed to refund some of the cost.
“Concert tours are no longer fun,” Young opined, pointing to ticket fees and scalpers as the culprit. “Concert tours not what they were.”
Young’s thoughts about ticket prices are the latest in his ongoing list of gripes regarding modern touring. In December, the rocker reiterated his refusal to play at concert venues that use factory farms.
SHORT TAKES — Could Big Blue be coming back? Blockbuster for decades was the go-to spot for DVDs and video-tapes. Stay tuned …I love Keanu Reeves, but I must admit I’ve not seen any of the John Wick movies. Chapter 4 opened this past weekend with a $74 million+ score. Rather amazing in this post-covid period.
I pulled up the trailer and was terrifically impressed by the lush visuals; beautiful music and Reeves and Lance Reddick just sensational. I am thinking of a John Wick-weekend where I’ll watch all 4 … Writer/producer Terry Jastrow arrives in NY this week with his wife actress Anne Archer … Whatever happened to the Madonna biopic? You ask three different people and you get three different answers,. Check this one out from IndieWire: https://www.indiewire.com/2023/03/julia-garner-madonna-biopic-fingers-crossed-1234819696/ …
Personally, I don’t think Garner should do it. Mired in controversy already, could it really be any good? … GUESS WHO DON”T SUE: What up-and-coming metal band is using the name of a high-profile manager to score some Manhattan-gigs? They were going to work with the manager until it blew up. Simply shady if you ask me … btw: whatever happened to Wendy Stuart Kaplan? …
Friday was the last episode (for their inaugural season) of Apple TV+’s Shrinking which has just been so excellent in this its debut season. Jason Segal and Brett Goldstein have come up with the best show on streaming yet. Infectiously good and the acting turns from Segal and Harrison Ford are off the charts. The show culminated in a wedding for best-friend Brian (Michael Urie) and ended with a call-back to the show’s very first scene. Remember it? Truly a one-of-a-kind show. We loved it … I’ve heard at least 4 stories on the news this weekend about composting. Is this a hot topic now? Trending is it? … RIP Nicholas Lloyd Webber
NAMES IN THE NEWS –— Alex Salzman; Rob Petrie; Anthony Pomes; Terry Jastrow; Tyrone Biljan; Jacqueline Boyd; Bill McCuddy; Brad LeBeau; Nile Rodgers; Nancy Hunt; Steve Leeds; Terri Epstein; Brenda K. Starr; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; William Schill; Robert Funaro; Vinny Pastore; Maureen Van Zandt; Tricia Daniels; and ZIGGY!
Did You Know There Is A Kander & Ebb Way?
On Friday, March 24th, the 96-year-old John Kander was given a Mayoral Proclamation from Mayor Eric Adams in celebration of the first performance of his new Broadway musical New York, New York. Following the proclamation, Lin-Manuel Miranda unveiled the sign renaming 44th Steet ‘Kander & Ebb Way. On hand was the Manhattan School of Music to performed the iconic Kander & Ebb song “New York, New York.”
New York, New York opens Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre (246 West 44th Street).
The Marvelous Marilyn Maye Received Twelve Standing Ovations At The New York Pops
Karen Akers, Jim Caruso, Tony Danza, Jamie deRoy, Max von Essen, Melissa Errico, Bob Mackie, Susie Mosher, Sidney Myer, Josh Prince, Lee Roy Reams, Rex Reed, Randy Roberts, Mo Rocca , Mark Sendroff, Lee Roy Reams, Brenda Vaccaro and David Zippel were there to see and honor Cabaret legend and Grammy nominee Marilyn Maye. Maye who turns 95 April 10th, made her at Carnegie Hall solo debut last night with The New York Pops, led by Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke.
Maye is a highly praised singer, actress, director, arranger, educator, Grammy nominated recording artist and a musical treasure. Her entire life has been committed to the art of song and performance and it showed with the 12 standing ovations she received.
Maye appeared 76 times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, she was “discovered” by Steve Allen and had a RCA recording contract, seven albums and 34 singles.
The evening started out with the superlative New York Pops Overture of Mame, which Maye had played the title role.
Next a Cole Porter Medley with “Looking at You,” Concentrate On You,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” It’s Alright With Me,””Just One of Those Things,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “All of You”. This was Marilyn’s second standing ovation. The first was when she stood on that stage for the first time and the audience was rapturous.
A terrific “It’s Today” from Mame with high flying kicks was the third ovation and wow can that woman kick.
A rainbow medley included “Look To The Rainbow” from Finnian’s Rainbow, the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” the jazzy “Make Me Rainbows” and of course “The Rainbow Connection.” And with that another standing ovation.
“Put On A Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie.
Frank Loesser’s Joey, Joey, Joey brought on a fifth standing ovation. This song was a masterclass in acting and vocal nuance. For that matter every song that comes out of Ms. Maye’s mouth is perfection. Part of the brilliance of this night is her musical director, arranger, and pianist Ted Firth. That man is a genius.
Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady ended the first act with a sixth standing ovation.
The overture from Hello Dolly! and then Cabaret shows Marilyn Maye also starred in opened the second act. The New York Pops sounded phenomenal as always.
“Your Gonna Hear From Me” from “Inside Daisy Clover was an appropriate starter for this next round as the audience got to its feet.
Maye’s most requested song “Guess Who I Saw Today” from New Faces of 1952 was followed by a show stopping “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom and of course another standing ovation.
Her next song was chosen by the Smithsonian Institute to be included in its permanent collection of recordings from the 20th century. Her recording of “Too Late Now” is considered by the Smithsonian to be one of the 110 Best American Compositions of the Twentieth Century and Ms. Maye showed us why and again another standing ovation.
A proclamation from The City of New York read by Steven Reineke to Marilyn Maye made this day Marilyn Maye Day. This treasure cried with joy as she sang Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” Though she forgot some of the lyric, Ms. Maye proved performing is all on the intent and connecting to the audience. Two more standing ovations were added here.
For encores, I was thrilled to hear James Taylor’s “Circle of Life” and “Here’s To Life,” which is my personal favorite, finally going back into “It’s Today” with those high kicks and a twelfth standing ovation. Bravo Ms. Maye!
If you are a singer and do not catch Ms. Maye live, you really do not care about your craft. Last night Ms. Maye made it clear why she’s been celebrated as one of America’s greatest jazz singers for more than 50 years and this was a night I will always remember. Thank-you New York Pops.
Don’t miss the Pop’s 40th Birthday Gala: This One’s For You: The Music Of Barry Manilow on Monday, May 1st. The gala will star Sean Bell, Erich Bergen, Betty Buckley, Charo, Deborah Cox, Danny Kornfeld, Norm Lewis, Melissa Manchester, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, Billy Stritch, Steven Telsey, Max von Essen, Dionne Warwick, and more to be announced. This will be yet another New York Pop’s Night not to miss.
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