I have been asked to step in at the last minute to rehearse and direct a community theater production of Children of Eden, a rock musical by Stephen Schwartz, of Godspell fame. I directed musical theater years ago, but I am not familiar with this work. I haven’t even seen the score or heard a recording (I will tomorrow). So I don’t know if I should take the job. Anybody have an opinion about this work? Is it good, could a community theater do a decent job, is it difficult to perform, easy, fun, what?
I also don’t know the show, but have a general idea of how it is likely to sound, having a firm grasp on Godspell (for which I was almost roped into a musical director position), Pippen, and Wicked.
And your singers better have some endurance. Schwartz loves long phrasings, rapid fire tempo, and making singers enunciate. Similarly, you’d better have a pretty solid pit band if the group is going to be playing with live accompaniment, especially the pianist. Godspell’s “Turn Back, O Man” is very weak if you don’t have a keyboardist capable of having a little fun with fills.
The stories themselves are somewhat hammy, so fun personalities and good singing voices will win out over subtle (or even good) acting any day. You won’t need actors who can sing. You’ll need singers who don’t embarrass themselves acting.
On the up side, the music and the staging and the stories are all terribly fun and catchy in any Schwartz show, and chances are your actors would have a blast performing it, even if they do so badly. And if the audience is willing to buy into the simply manic and fun energy of the show, they won’t care too much either.
Very valuable advice, **Only Mostly Dead, ** and thanks. I am meeting with the producer this morning and getting the scores to look over. Since I would be stepping in at the last moment, most of the cast and band has already been chosen (a previous director bowed out). I understand it is scored for 3 keyboards and we will have some woodwinds available. One of those keyboards will be good musician who is a Sondheim fan, although I question his rock chops. Another keyboard will be me, and I have no problem with rock, jazz or improv. So we’ll see.
I saw a dinner theatre production a few years ago & thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s basically a Godspellian rendition of Genesis, from Creation to the Flood. If I were asked to direct a musical I was unfamiliar with though, I’d get the album if possible-
and it is!
It’s hard. The score is bigger than most of Schwartz’s other works, and more difficult to perform well. It’s really not a rock musical, per se, as you’ll soon see - there’s more gospel to it than rock, but it’s certainly got its share of standard Broadway sound. You’ll need very good singers, and a heap of them, particularly men and particularly tenors. The Serpent is played by five actors who sing a really fun but really difficult quintet with all kinds of wacky jazz harmonies; if you don’t have an audition pool where you know you can identify five outstanding vocal musicians over and above the people who are going to be the leads, this will be hard to execute. Your Eve will also need to be a really good singer, and able to carry off the gospel thing. The acting demands are a bit less strenuous than the singing demands - the characters are mostly archetypes, not deep and complicated; high energy will cover a lot of flaws in this area.
There really ought to be an enormous chorus, to play the various animals and peoples of the Bible. If you decide to be very literal about your interpretation, you will also need to worry about costuming a garden (and later an Ark) filled with every kind of living thing imaginable (although I once saw a production where they got around this by putting the chorus in white T-shirts with animals on the front, like the kind you might buy at a zoo).
But… I think it’s better than Pippin and Godspell, and miles above Wicked, in terms of the quality of the score. The opening number, “Let There Be,” is just awesome if it’s well-staged, and the aforementioned Serpent song is a lot of fun, and the Act I closer (and title song) is really pretty, too. The lyrics are good, if you like Stephen Schwartz’s stuff (Either the rhyme “Oh Noah / You go-ah / All the way back to the protozoa” does it for you, or it doesn’t).
The story is what the story is - the Biblical accounts of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah, reimagined to have a contemporary feel and to play as a parable on the relationships between parents and their children. The second act drags a bit.
Hope that helps a little. Good luck!
I’m really happy that my educated guesses above, not knowing the show, are vindicated by somebody who actually knows the show.
For good or for bad, Schwartz is Schwartz is Schwartz.
I am listening to the Paper Mill recording right now and I have the scores, but haven’t opened them yet. So far, I am not knocked out by the music; on first listen it sounds like Sondheim without much sond and very little heim. I would have a hard time calling it rock; it seems like straight pop, or even contemporary classical. Nothing pops out at me and the orchestra is basically forgettable.
In short, Hair it’s not.
All of the principals have been cast and there have been some vocal rehearsals already. I found out I am not being asked to play any keyboards or rehearse the vocals, just rehearse the instruments and direct. That takes a load off. The keyboards are top notch performers who can read and play “by the book”. I am not personally familiar with most of the others, but they are drawn from school and private teacher staffs. There is a children’s chorus, and some are veterans of past projects like this already.
So basically, all I have to do is bring it together musically and take the credit.
Or the blame.
There are 7 performances planned and it will be held in one of the two best and biggest auditoriums in the County. A pretty heavy schedule and ambitious project, and I’m not sure I want to commit.
I LOVE this musical. From what I’ve read, it’s easily adaptable to almost any size ensemble.
That’s good to know. It’s not easy to tell from the P/V score without intensive study just what instruments are doubled or less neccessary – I see no “cued in kbd2” or “play if no sax” notation.
It’s originally scored for 3 keyboards, vocals, 3 ww, horn, 2 guitars, drums, percussion, cello and bass. I doubt if we will have the full complement, although we might come close.