Used to be, in the world of stage musicals, there were hits and flops. Hits were shows that opened on Broadway and ran long enough to turn a profit; flops were everything else. But that was back in the days when there were a lot of Broadway shows, they didn't cost as much money to produce, and money was easier to raise. Today, things are much more complicated: Shows don't even have to open on Broadway to be successful. The greater risks and opportunities, however, tend to eliminate finality. In a sense, there are no flops anymore, only shows that haven't been sufficiently revised and reproduced enough times to become hits yet. Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the songs for Godspell and collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on Mass, returned to religious subject matter with the musical Children of Eden, which ran for only 103 performances in London in 1991, though it produced a cast album. Used to be, that would have meant it was a flop. Instead, Schwartz and librettist John Caird continued to work on the show. For another six years. Then it was staged at the Paper Mill Playhouse, a prominent regional theater in New Jersey, for six weeks in 1997, with a cast including Broadway and recording star Stephanie Mills. It is the cast of this production that has recorded this two-CD set. (There is also a one-CD highlights version.) The hope, of course, is that this will lead to further productions and maybe even to Broadway. Children of Eden is a musical retelling of the Book of Genesis, specifically, creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel (Act I), and Noah and the Ark (Act II). Schwartz has experience musicalizing the New Testament, but the Old, while inherently dramatic, is also episodic and more intractable. But then, in a move that may make church productions dicey, Schwartz and Caird have introduced some variations into the stories. Their God often sounds more like a secular father than a holy one: Adam and Eve seem to discover sex before eating the apple; after Eve eats the apple, God tries to persuade Adam to stay in Eden; and Cain discovers "A Ring of Stones" that sounds a lot like Stonehenge and suggests some other god may have staged another creation nearby.
For all that, the plot generally follows the Biblical versions, sometimes told in choral parts and sometimes in solo songs that mix traditional theater music with elements of pop
ock, jazz, gospel, and Caribbean music. The result is often pleasant, but rarely engaging, and it's hard to believe that theater professionals would devote so much time and effort to material that, in the end, remains what it always has been, with or without music. Maybe church groups will be able to overlook the discrepancies and use the work for youthful productions (it has a cast of 65). But will this non-flop ever be a hit on Broadway? Don't hold your breath.