'Children of Eden' sheds light on parenting

Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre show opens Feb. 24

CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
The cast of Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre's Children of Eden has rehearsed six nights a week since Christmas.
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The score sold Ernie Williamson from the start.

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Joseph Pendergrast (left) plays the dual parts of Abel/Ham, and Will Wilson plays Cain/Japheth in the show.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
Joseph Pendergrast (left) plays the dual parts of Abel/Ham, and Will Wilson plays Cain/Japheth in the show.

“I bought the soundtrack, and I fell in love with it,” said Williamson, who is one of the storytellers in Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre’s upcoming production Children of Eden.

Williamson planned to listen to the soundtrack on his evening two-mile walk. The two-disc set was so compelling that he ended up walking five miles that night, and the lyrics moved him to tears on several occasions.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who composed the scores for Wicked and Godspell, and a script by John Caird, who wrote the musical Les Miserables, Children of Eden is loosely based on stories from the biblical book of Genesis.

“The stories in this play are universal,” said Steve Walpert, the show’s director.

One theme is the relationships of children and parents.

“Children are preparing to leave from the moment they are born, and parents are preparing their children to leave from the moment they are born. One very moving song talks about the hardest part of loving is letting go.”

Another parent-child thread in the play has to do with those acts of defiance children often practice. In Children of Eden, God is known as “Father.”

“Eve defies Father; Adam defies Father. Out in the wasteland with Cain and Abel, Cain rebels against Adam as father,” said Walpert.

While the play is filled with poignant and tender moments, it shouldn’t leave the audience feeling depressed, according to musical director Les Reagan.

“It is not a downer show,” he said. “It is so uplifting.”

Children of Eden also has its moments of humor and fun. There are central characters including Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah and his family, but much of the plot is driven by a group of actors called storytellers.

In the second act, many of the storytellers also double as animals on Noah’s ark. The show is for all ages, and cast members range in age from about 10 to over 60.

“This is an immense show,” Walpert said. “Our cast has been in rehearsals six nights a week since Christmas.”

One of the reasons for so much rehearsal time goes back to the musical score Williamson loved.

“On a scale of easy to extremely difficult, this is extremely difficult,” said Reagan, who as the former managing director of Augusta Opera and a musical director for many Fort Gordon and Augusta Players’ shows, knows a few things about difficult music.

Fans of the popular musical Wicked will also be able to pick out similar styles in Schwartz’s score of Children of Eden.

“There are some subtle nuances of the Wicked score. There is one song that reminds us of Defying Gravity,” Williamson said.

Children of Eden will be presented Feb. 24-25, March 2-3, 8-10 at Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. with dinner at 7 and the show at 8.

Tickets are $40 for civilians, $38 for senior citizens, retirees, Department of the Army civilians and active duty military E7 and above; $30 for active duty military E6 and below; and $20 for the show only. Reservations are required by calling (706) 793-8552.

Civilians can enter Fort Gordon through Gate One on Gordon Highway. An ID for ages 16 and older, proof of car insurance and vehicle registration are required.

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