For a change, I’m going to start a writeup with a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): If there was ever a reason that Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) needed to survive, it is productions such as this. We have been attending Cabrillo since Anything Goes back in the Fall of 2000, and I believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, production that they have done. I believe that this production could transfer to the Pantages, Ahmanson, or even a Broadway stage and the audience would be equally blown away. The performance, technical, dance, creative, and musical teams come together perfectly to make a creation that is an Eden. If you do nothing else, get tickets for one of the remaining performances. You will fall in love with this musical, its message, and this production.
OK. Enough gushing. You’ve probably figured out that we liked this show.
One of the things that I liked about this particular Cabrillo season was that it was all shows that I have seen with a professional company: they’ve been films, schools, and churches. My exposure to Children of Eden, other than the music, was a Church production back in 2013. This version of Children of Eden was head and shoulders above that version, and that version was very strong for what it was. I’ll note that this is one of those rare musicals that has never seen a life on Broadway: it went straight out to the regional circuit, where it has done extremely well. Steven Schwartz (FB), the composer (who most know from Wicked these days), has indicated that this is his personal favorite musical. There’s a reason, which become apparent as you see it multiple times. If “Feed The Birds” was the heart of Mary Poppins, I think the heart of this show is the Act II song “The Hardest Part of Love”:
And it’s only in Eden
Grows a rose without a thorn
And your children start to leave you
on the day that they are born
They will leave you there to cheer for them
They will leave you there to mourn
Like an ark on uncharted seas
Their lives will be tossed
And the deeper is your love for them
The crueler is the cost.
And just when they start to find themselves
Is when you fear they’re lost
But you cannot close the acorn
One the oak begins to grow
And you cannot close your heart
To what it fears and needs to know
That the hardest part of love…
That the rarest part of love…
That the truest part of love…
Is letting go.
Note: On his website, Stephen Schwartz has a wonderful document on the show, its origins, its themes, and its impact on people. Well worth reading. He notes that he particularly likes “Stranger to the Rain”:
I don’t curse what I can’t change
I just play the hand I’m dealt
And when they lighten up the rations
I tighten up my belt
I won’t say I’ve never felt the pain
But I am not a stranger to the rain.
The story of Children of Eden (book by John Caird (FB), based on a concept by Charles Lisanby, with music and lyrics by Schwartz (FB)) is the story of letting go, and the story of learning to let go. Act I tells the story of Adam and Eve, from their creation to their death, their interaction with their Father, and in turn, their interaction with their children (who exhibit remarkably similar traits to their parents). It deals with parents being disappointed with their children; it explores children and boundaries (which brings to mind The Fantastiks line about getting children to do something by just telling them “no”). It demonstrates that parents are only human as well, and the hard choices we are sometimes forced to make when we have knowledge — especially when we must decide between two things that we love. The second act brings the other end of that lineage: it explores the story of Noah, focusing on the reason for the flood, and again focuses on the power of choice, of making a decision.
As this was my second time seeing the show, I’ll note that I got much more out of Cabrillo’s production. I found myself recognizing depths and aspects of this story I hadn’t seen in the Church production, and insights and story aspects that made we want to explore more of the midrashim in this area. I think it demonstrated why the point of these stories in the Book of Genesis is much more than a creation story: it is a parable of parents and children, of raising the question of proper choice that surfaces again in Deuteronomy. It shows that — independent of the religious trappings — the stories in Genesis have wonderful lessons to teach us about life and handling life’s situations.
If theatre and performance can make you reflect and think like that… that’s the power of theatre and of live performance. And, as I said upfront, it is why performance and production teams the size and scale of Cabrillo are vital for a community’s spiritual and emotive health. This is a large production: in addition to the leads and main players, there were 12 Storytellers, 5 adult Ensemble members, and 20 children’s Ensemble members. Broadway can’t afford that. Regional productions can, especially when mixing local and Equity talent. But regional spaces that can handle that size of a show are rare; this is especially true when attempting to find such spaces that aren’t already booked with the “From Broadway” tours. Again: a reason why Cabrillo is vital to the artistic health of Ventura and northwestern Los Angeles county.
Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), who directed this production, brought some interesting touches. I particularly noted the unspoken framing devices: The story starts with Father (God) in street clothes reading the story to his children in bed; it ends with the cast not in their biblical garb, but again in street clothes as they sing:
We cannot know what will occur
Just make our journey worth the taking
And pray we’re wiser than we were
In the beginning
It’s the beginning
Now we begin…
This simple directorial decision changes the impact of the story from something in the past to a challenge to us today.
[It also, as I re-read the words, has an interesting echo for Cabrillo Music Theatre itself (for which Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB) also serves as Artistic Director): They want to make the journey worth the taking, hopefully being wiser than before the flood. It’s the beginning of a new Cabrillo. But I digress…]
There are some other directorial decisions that I thought were the little touches that gave this performance something extra. Lewis obviously worked with the children on this show, keeping that childish joy there (seen when they are portraying animals). He was the one with the broad view that brought the overall image the magic that it needs. He also, I’m guessing, was responsible for some of the little things, like how Father would watch the characters go on and off stage during Act II, just like a caring watchful parent. Observing all. Saying little.
This is one of those shows where everything came together: the dance, the lighting, the visuals, the movement, the performances, the costumes. That overall vision — especially on the stage — comes from the director. Kudos to Lewis for this vision.
Normally, I might hunt down some publicity pictures for you to look at while I discuss the cast. I found some on Broadway World, but it is unclear if they are BWW’s or the show’s. To play it safe, I’ll just provide you the link to see them.
The leads in the show were played by three Equity actors whom we have all seen at Cabrillo before (as well as in other regional productions): Norman Large (FB) as Father, Misty Cotton (FB) as Eve/Mama Noah, and Kevin McMahon (FB) as Adam/Noah. All were spectacular. Let’s take them one by one:
Large’s Father was just what you would want a father to be: caring, loving, and concerned for the future of his family. You could see the exasperation of a father when he was dealing with a childish Adam and Eve. You could see his anger and disappointment when his children disobeyed his orders, and especially when they brought harm to others he loved. Large captured well the emotions every father knows well. He sang beautifully in all his numbers, but especially memorable was his opening number and his duet with Noah in “The Hardest Part of Love”. What I’ll remember, however, is something little he did: In Act II, as characters walked off -stage, he turned and watched them. This is the omnipresent concern of a father, keeping an eye on your children wherever they may be.
Cotton had the matriarchal roles in both acts: Eve and Mama Noah. We’ve seen Cotton many times, most recently in her wonderful performance as the mother in Carrie: The Musical. In this show, what I remember most about her was her childish enthusiasm and curiosity, which she captured so well in the first act in number such as “The Naming” and “Grateful Children”, as well as her interaction with the snake in one of my favorite songs, “In Pursuit of Excellence”. Where she brought the house down, however, was her gospel-y, rock-ish performance of “Ain’t It Good”, the penultimate number of the show. Just an astounding performance.
Lastly, McMahon’s Adam/Noah was a wonderful counterpoint to Cotton’s Eve. He, too, had the childish nature that came across in Act I, but with a much more obedient streak, which made his portrayal of making the decision between his wife and his father a more painful one. His standout performance, however, in my eyes, was in “The Hardest Part of Love”, where he captured the true emotion of what it means to be a father.
Next we have the children of Adam/Noah: Ryan J. Driscoll (FB) (Cain/Japeth), Barnaby James (FB) (Abel/Ham), and Paul DiLoreto (FB) (Seth/Shem). Driscoll gave a strong performance both as Cain and Japeth. In the first act he did a wonderful job on “Lost in the Wilderness” as well as the emotion and passion of his battle with Abel. In the second act, he had some wonderful interactions with Yoneh and had a wonderful duet in “In Whatever Time We Have”. James’ Abel was also strong, especially in his interactions with Cain and Adam, and in “A Ring of Stones”. James and DiLoreto’s roles were less visible in the second act; I’ll note that all three were enjoyable in “A Piece of Eight” and in the concluding number “In The Beginning”.
The roles for the brother’s wives come into play only in the second act; I have the feeling they were part of the larger ensemble during the first act. Of the wives, the standout is Natalia Vivino (FB)’s performance of Yoneh, a character created by Schwartz to create the second act conflict. Vivino first blew us away when we saw here in ARTS’s Addams Family; she did it again last night. She was just spectacular in the touching numbers “Stranger to the Rain” and “Sailor of the Sky”, and in her duet with Driscoll in “In Whatever Time We Have”. There have been performers we’ve seen go big after their days at Cabrillo (yes, we remember Katherine McPhee in Annie Get Your Gun). I hope that happens for Ms. Vivino — she has a unique look and a wonderful talent, and I think she will go far (for whatever the opinion of this cybersecurity specialist means). Rounding out the brother’s wives were Elizabeth Adabale (FB) as Aysha and Kayla Bailey (FB) as Aphra.
Children of Eden uses the storytelling device of a chorus (in the Greek Chorus sense). This group provides commentary on the action and fills in portions of the story as needed. As such, it is difficult to separate the voices and the actions, although I do recall that the lead storytellers were very strong. The storytelling chorus consisted of Kenneth Mosley (FB) (Lead), Katie Porter (FB) (Lead), Francesca Barletta (FB), Jenny Hoffman (FB), Janelle Loren (FB), Zy’heem Naheo/FB, Rile Reavis (FB), Christopher Reilly/FB, Pablo Rossil (FB), Rodrigo Varandas (FB), Terri Woodall (FB), and Kendyl Yokoyama (FB). I will note that I particularly enjoyed those members of the chorus that comprised the Snake for “In Pursuit of Excellence”; the Storytellers were also very strong on “Generations”.
Rounding out the players on stage were the adult ensemble and the children’s ensemble. The adult ensemble consisted of Judi Domroy (FB), Nicholas Ferguson, John Gaston (FB), Heidi Goodspeed (FB), and Susan Robb/FB. The childrens’ ensemble consisted of Carolina De los Rios, Audrey Devina-Goldberg/FB, Natalie Esposito/FB, Mia Gabbey/FB, Gannon Hays/FB, Samantha Hirschhorn/FB, Julia Rose Kreinces (FB), Kyle Lobenhofer/FB, Calista Loter (FB), Nathaniel Mark/FB (Young Cain), Brielle Napue/FB, Zoë Reed/FB, Marcello Silva/FB (Young Abel), Ashley Kiele Thomas (FB), Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB), Lilly Thompson/FB, Hattie Ugoretz/FB, Jessica Wallace (FB), Emerson West/FB, and Megan Zide/FB. Whew. That’s a lot of links. The ensemble is what made this show special in many ways, particularly the kids’ ensemble. They were particularly notable during the animal scenes (especially in Act II, where they just melted your heart as they stayed in character as they moved offstage). There was also one adorable little girl, brown hair, relatively young, who was just radiating so much joy as she danced in one of the second act numbers. Cabrillo always has outstanding ensembles, but this group (particularly the little ones) outdid themselves with what they added to this show.
Unseen, but heard, was the off-stage pit choir consisting of students from Thousand Oaks High School, Chaminade College Prep High School, Santa Susana High School, Simi Valley High School, Moorpark College, CSU Northridge, and CSU Channel Islands.
As Lewis Wilkenfeld reminds us every show: live theatre needs live music. The Theatre League learned this the hard way when they were raked over the coals for pre-recorded music during their recent production of Ragtime at the Kavli. Luckily, Cabrillo had a great orchestra, under the musical direction of Cassie Nickols (FB). This orchestra consisted of Cassie Nickols (FB) (Keyboard Synthesizer I), Benjamin Ginsberg/FB (Keyboard Synthesizer II, Asst. Music Director), Lloyd Cooper (FB) (Keyboard Synthesizer III, Asst. Music Director), Gary Rautenberg (FB) (Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Alto Sax), Ian Dahlberg (FB) (Oboe, English Horn, Tenor Sax, Clarinet), Matt Germaine/FB (Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Clarinet), Jennifer Bliman (Horn), Pathik Desai (FB) (Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin), Gary Solt (Electric & Acoustic Guitars), Stephen Green (Cello), Shane Harry/FB (Double String Bass), Tyler Smith/FB (Percussion), Alan Peck (Set Drums). The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.
This is a show with a very strong choreographic element. This is evident from the very first number, where the choreography, projections, lighting, and performance come together to make it clear that you are seeing something special. Credit, of course, goes to the dances as well as the choreography of Michelle Elkin (FB) [whose work we saw ages ago in Sister Act at the Playhouse]. In general, this is a show with a very special movement component throughout. Just look at the movement in “Let There Be”, “The Naming”, “The Return of the Animals”, and “Ain’t It Good”. A wide variety, well executed.
Lastly, we turn to the production and remaining creative team. This is one of those shows where everything came together perfectly, and no where is that seen better than the combination of the lighting design of Christina L. Munich (FB) and the scenic and projection design of Jeff Cason. It was just an astounding tour de force. Adding to this was the outstanding costume design of Noelle Raffy (FB), the hair and makeup design of Cassie Russek (FB) and Stephanie Fenner/FB, the prop design of Alex Choate (FB), and the animal costumes from Maine State Musical Theatre Costume Rentals (FB). Sound design was by CMT regular Jonathan Burke (FB). Remaining production credits: Jessica R. Aguilar (Production Stage Manager), Jack Allaway (Technical Director), David Elzer/Demand PR (Public Relations), and C. Raul Espinoza (FB) (Marketing Consultant). Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).
Children of Eden continues at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) through April 17, 2016. It took me so long to write this up you only have next weekend to see it. Tickets are available online through Cabrillo; there are no discount tickets currently on Goldstar. 🌟🌟🌟Go See This🌟🌟🌟.
Dining Notes: We found a new place to eat just down the street from the Kavli: Mouthful Eatery (FB). Handcrafted food, relatively heathly, very very tasty. Reasonably fast. We will remember it.
* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I had been subscribing at three theatres: The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and REP East (FB): but all have gone or are going dark (update: Cabrillo is coming back!), I just added a subscription to the Hollywood Pantages (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: Next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the actual weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April will be the Four Clowns (FB) production of Lunatics and Actors at the LA Shakespeare Center on April 30. May starts with Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: Alien vs. Musical ✨ All Aboard the Marriage Hearse ✨ All The Best Killers are Librarians ✨ Code 197 DWB (Driving While Blewish) ✨ Qaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the Devil ✨ Squeeze My Cans ✨Tell Me On A Sunday ✨ Toxic Avenger: The Musical ✨ Vintage Box ✨ Einstein ✨Titus Andronicus Jr. ✨The Old Woman ✨Sweet Love Adieu ✨ My Big Fat Blond Musical✨Doctor in the House ✨ Hamlet (Las Vegas Style) ✨. But that’s just a small percentage; there are over 200 shows listed now. We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.