If you were to ask Stephen Schwartz which one of his works he holds dearest, you might be surprised by his answer. Because the man who created such classics as Godspell, Pippin and Wicked, wouldn't say any of those were his favorite. That's because his favorite is Children of Eden.
"I think the work of which I am most proud is Children of Eden, for several reasons. To begin with, I think it's my best score musically. It also contains the song that is maybe my personal favorite of my songs from a purely visceral point of view, "Stranger to the Rain", a song that embodies how I feel about parenting (which is very important to me), "The Hardest Part of Love", and above all, the song that most most espouses my philosophy of life and which, if I had one song to be remembered by, is the one I would choose: "In the Beginning". There are more of the themes that I return to over and over – personal responsibility, rebellion, intellectual independence, as well as overcoming family dysfunctions -- in this work than in any of my other shows. And I am proud of the fact that I kept working on the show after its initial failure in its London premiere, so that it has become a viable and often performed piece that I know will live on after I'm gone."
For those not familiar with the piece, Children of Eden casts the beloved biblical stories of Genesis through the personal lens of family. It starts with the very beginning: the creation of the universe. Father breathes life into his children, Adam and Eve, and learns that the hardest part of being a loving Father is letting go. It’s a lesson that translates into the parenting of Cain, Abel, and Seth and is reiterated once again as Noah parents his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This joyous and inspiring musical celebrates the difficulty of choice, the importance of passion, the value of questioning, and the pain in allowing those you love to take risks and face the consequences.
Interestingly enough, even though this piece is Schwartz' favorite and has become one of his most produced shows, it has never gotten a Broadway run.
In fact, it's had quite an unfortunate professional production history. It opened in the West End in 1991 where it quickly closed partially due to poor reviews but more because of the lack of tourism due to the Gulf War. Even more unfortunate, there was a malfunction in the manufacturing of its cast recording which left the CD's "bronzed" and unplayable.
While never enjoying a full-scale production in New York, it had a run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ and is mostly done in concert nowadays.
So the question remains, will it ever get the Broadway run it deserves?
Well, there are some steep obstacles to overcome for a production ever to be mounted on Broadway. Here are some of them.
It Would Be Ridiculously Expensive to Produce
Anyone who has ever seen or been in this show knows what I'm talking about. It's a massive undertaking which would require a massive budget. With at least 11 principal roles and an ensemble of at least 40, the budget for the cast alone would be gigantic. I've seen some productions with as many as 60 performers on stage. In addition to the cost of the cast, this show requires complex sets, props and costumes, which inflates the weekly production costs as well.
The cost alone is why most professional companies won't touch it. It would have to do very well at the box office to sustain a budget like that and make enough profit for investors. Which leads to another issue.
Religious Themed Musicals Typically Don't Do Well on Broadway
While there are certainly some iconic musicals with religious subject matter, they haven't had a rich history when it comes to Broadway productions. Shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Godspell, have never enjoyed a successful New York run, with most productions ending within a year. While The Book of Mormon has become a hit, let's be honest, it's not exactly a celebratory musical of the Mormon religion as some of these other musicals are.
If you want good examples of how religious-themed musicals typically fare in New York, look no further then the quick closing of Amazing Grace and the short-lived revivals of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. With this kind of track record, it would be a very long shot for Children of Eden to get a run.
Which is a shame, because I have to agree with Schwartz when I say it's one of his best overall works. It's a complex show but has some of his most gorgeous songs. From "In Whatever Time We Have" to "Stranger to the Rain" to the audition favorite(and often failed) "Lost in the Wilderness", there is a level of sincerity and beauty in this piece that isn't found in a lot of his other work.
As a fan of the piece, I do hope there is a way a production could be mounted in New York, even if just for a limited engagement. There is a lot of negative in our country right now and a positive piece like this would be most welcome. And for a man who has been viciously under-awarded for his work, a piece like this deserves a full-scale Broadway production.