Despite its source material, "Children of Eden" just isn't that great. The characterizations are fairly simplistic, and even the best of the songs are generic-sounding, but Poteet offsets weaker aspects with a huge cast, some lovely spectacle and fantastic choreography.
Originally created as part of a religious high school theater camp, "Eden" is a pretty straightforward musical about the relationships between parents and children, couched in the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah and the flood. The themes of love, obedience and the consequences of rebellion are explored in a superficial manner, with sparse moments of moving drama interspersed throughout the nearly three-hour runtime.
In "Eden," the dialogue tends to suffer from under- or overacting, and across the board, the cast is at their best during the musical numbers. The first moment of real emotional revelation comes from Pamela Rise Hoover as Eve, just after eating from the tree of knowledge. She also plays Mrs. Noah and delivers an amazing vocal performance in the rousing gospel number "Ain't It Good."
Michael Harden brings some much-needed energy in his earnest performances, first as the murderous Cain and then as Noah's rebellious son, Japeth. Daniel Lucas turns in an emotionally sincere performance as a Noah that seems bent on adding his own stream of tears to the flood, once God stops talking to him.
While the on-the-nose, all-white costumes and too-blue stage work all right for the heavenly opening scenes, I longed for more color in the garden. The stage looks its best when partially darkened or broken up by more directional lighting, and features a rotating platform used to great effect. Some of the more beautiful imagery included a tree of knowledge comprised of several young women, tempting the audience in their own way, while holding a series of poses for impressive lengths of time.
"Eden" features two separate scenes populated with animals portrayed by actors. The physicality of these performances work well, but the 42 colorful masks created by artist Jason Kelley "? while impressive in number "? vary in quality, with some evoking the feel of a low-rent "Lion King."
It seems like Poteet is always out to see just how many people can be fit on its small stage at once, and with a cast of 51, "Eden" is no exception. As always, Poteet makes choreographing such a large cast of all ages appear effortless. The stage is full of movement, but never chaotic. The featured dancers "? including Patrick Rose and Alison Beth Swenson, among others "? all deserve special praise for their graceful performances.
You're either the kind of theatergoer who thinks the idea of a musical based on the Book of Genesis is a good idea, or you're not. The reasons you may have for feeling either way could vary wildly, depending on your faith and taste in the stage. If you're one of the former, then seek out Poteet's spirited production of "Children of Eden."
Children of Eden stages at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 6 at Poteet Theatre at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 222 N.W. 15th.