By Katie Pynes Anetsberger
Children of Eden, The Nebraska Communities Playhouse, February 17, 2023 7:30PM
As much as I love the whimsical experience of singing along to many popular musicals, there is something deeply moving about a story which leaves you with existential thoughts instead of 76 trombones. Children of Eden does just this, leaving you contemplating the oldest questions in the universe: who am I, where did I come from, and where am I going?
This was my first opportunity to visit The Nebraska Communities Playhouse since it transitioned from The Stage Theater, into the brand new (and huge!) building. Every interaction I had with the volunteers was uplifting. This truly feels like a community production in that everyone is coming together with their own sparks of creativity, like Eve, to build something beautiful.
For fans of Wicked, you may recognize similar musical themes in this production as it is also composed by Stephen Schwartz, a profoundly talented and renowned creator. I think it is also interesting to note that Schwartz grew up in a Jewish home, and brings that worldview to this composition, rather than a mainstream Christian perspective.
In the first act, ‘Father’ creates the first ‘children,’ ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve.’ Eve, the first woman, wrestles with this first question, who am I? Her answer comes in the form of the song, “The Spark of Creation.” As a child of God, she inherits His creativity, proclaiming “I am an echo of the eternal cry of, let there be!” This discovery, as interpreted by Schwartz, leads her into distrust of Father, instead of closer union, ultimately leading her to use her free will to choose disobedience and exile, along with Adam. This theme of free-will is present throughout, though not explicitly until the end. This same free-will leads to trouble in their own family years later, when the choice of Cain breaks the family asunder again.
The second act shifts to the story of Noah, with many of the characters from the first act shifting into new roles. The themes of family and choice persist throughout, highlighting that in every age we’ve collectively wrestled with these questions. I was intrigued by the creative interpretation of this story, especially in the character of ‘Yonah,’ a descendant of Cain, who uses her free-will to stop her inheritance of violence and hate, and ultimately redeems herself in the eyes of Noah’s family.
I absolutely loved how the cast included a range of community members, including many young people. The cast as a whole worked well together, but I would be remiss in not sharing some of the most noteworthy performances. Matthew A. Works (Father), delivered a stunning and believable performance with beautiful vocals. I am also convinced he must be Tim Curry’s long lost brother, as they possess a similar look, talent and timbre.
Chloe Schwarting (Yonah/Chorus/Snake), stood out for her amazing and successfully executed vocals and commanding presence on the stage, even in the first act where she is ‘only’ in the chorus. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between the ‘brothers’ Jacob Vanderford (Cain/Japheth) and Alex Rownd (Abel/Ham), both of whom sang and acted very well. Tim Andersen (Adam/Noah) and Megan Mills (Eve/Mama Noah) gave especially beautiful performances in the first act as the original ‘Children of Eden,’ Adam and Eve. The shift in their demeanor from innocent children to careworn parents was particularly effective and believable.
In the final song, I felt profoundly moved by the lyrics, sung back and forth between the Children of Eden and Father, offering an explanation and hope for the future:
“Of all the gifts we have received
One is most precious and most terrible
The will of each of us is free
It’s in our hands…
There is no journey gone so far
So far we cannot stop and change directions
No doom is written in the stars
It’s in our hands.”
The Children of Eden leave us with their answers to those original posed questions–who are we? Children of the Father, made in love and for love with a free will. Where did we come from and where are we going have the same answer – Eden. How do we get there? Through our choices, always with the chance to begin again. “It’s in our hands,” and that is a sober, but comforting thought.
As a parent, I always like to know the answer to “Can I take my kids?” Spoiler alert, Cain still kills Abel, so it may not be suitable for young children. I might recommend ages 8 and up for my own family.
If you go: Children of Eden will perform in the Nebraska Communities Playhouse, 217 Locust Street, Hickman, NE, February 18, 23, 24, 25 at 7:30PM and February 19, 26 at 2PM. Tickets may be purchased at neplayhouse.com/.
Katie Pynes Anetsberger is an avid reader, aspiring writer, amateur artist and mother of three magical humans. A staunch supporter of the arts, she firmly believes, in the words of Dostoevsky “The world will be saved by beauty.”
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