A cast of 37 actors, both adults and youngsters, and a demanding array of Stephen Schwartz-penned songs make “Children of Eden,” the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s latest production, “one of the most ambitious shows we’ve put on,” director Bob Hupp says.
It’s so involved, the designs plan began unfolding in March and, Hupp said, it’s been steady work since then for the theater.
The Rep officially unwraps its annual holiday musical on Friday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m., but will hold a sneak preview and a discussion with Hupp beginning at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2 (curtain at 7 p.m.). All tickets are $35 for adults and $17.50 for children. The show runs through Jan. 2.
Hupp says, “The music is great and it’s a story we’re all familiar with and told in a way that gives insight to relationships between parents, families and the people we care about.”
“Children of Eden” uses the Bible’s Book of Genesis as a starting point to tell a heartwarming story about family and all the challenges surrounding it.
Schwartz, whose “Wicked” is currently the hot musical on Broadway, also co-wrote “Pippin” and “Godspell.” “Children of Eden” was an Off-Broadway production that has been staged throughout the country, particularly in churches, and enjoyed for its diverse styles of music, blending gospel, reggae, pop and choral sounds. It annually ranks in the top 20 of most-produced musicals in the U.S.
Hupp can proudly boast of a cast that includes veterans of Broadway, New York and regional theater. Trista Moldovan, who played the title character in last season’s “Gypsy” at the Rep, returns, as does Heather Ayers, who was Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes” in 2001. William Solo played Jean Valjean in Broadway’s “Les Miserables” for more than 1,200 performances and toured with the late Richard Harris in “Camelot.” Hupp has cast several local children as well.
“The cast is strong from start to finish,” Hupp said. “There are some real veterans of the stage, too. It’s a very talented group and this is an incredibly demanding show vocally, one of the more demanding shows we’ve had. Consequently, it’s one of the most rewarding for the audience.”
Hupp called on Rep scene designer Mike Nichols, while Rafael Castanero designed the costumes, which included the creation of “Lion King”-style animals for the “Noah’s Ark” scene in Act II.
Hupp had not seen a staging of “Children of Eden” before receiving a soundtrack CD about five years ago. “From that point, I thought it would be a great show for us at holiday time. It’s just taken five years to get to the point to do it. We’ve grown our organization substantially in the last five years. I thought we were ready to tackle a show as demanding. Before, we didn’t really have the budget. We had a very talented staff, but not the budget to do this justice the way I saw it in my head.”
For tickets, call 378-0405. Regular showtimes are 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and 2 p.m. each Sunday through Jan. 2.
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