Glorious music, beautifully sung and expertly played, was the clear highlight of this final presentation in Magnormos’ Stephen Schwartz Triptych, a celebration that brightened Melbourne’s music theatre calendar considerably this year. Excitement was even higher thanks to the presence of the great man himself in the audience.
Reportedly a favourite of community and school productions around the globe, this presentation marked the 1991 musical’s Australian professional stage debut. The chance to hear such a wonderful cast and band proved to be well worth the wait. Musical Director Cameron Thomas led a further twelve musicians in a superb performance of the massive, almost through-sung score. Thomas’ work with the cast of 22 highly talented singers produced a magnificent vocal sound, with thrilling harmonies and powerful volume.
Director Aaron Joyner delivered a highly focused, uncluttered staging that kept the spotlight squarely on the singing. Keeping almost the whole cast onstage for the night avoided the need for entrances and exits, facilitating an effortless flow of scenes. Simple use of props created the range of settings, with dynamic projections from designer Christina Logan-Bell providing colourful support. Eschewing the sheets and robes of biblical epics, Logan-Bell had the cast in modern day clothes in a well-chosen palette of earth tones.
Despite the potential in a one-night concert for more performers, Joyner maintained the double casting of key roles, a concept that creates a clever symmetry between the two acts as we move through the old testament from Adam and Eve to Noah’s Ark. The actors playing Adam and Eve name the animals, and then those same performers welcome the animals aboard the ark. The actor playing badass brother Cain later plays a son of Noah facing the dilemma of loving a woman cursed with the mark of Cain.
The jewel of Magnormos’ treasure trove of contributing artists, Laura Fitzpatrick demonstrated her inestimable worth yet again with a pair of stunning performances as Eve and Mama Noah. Beginning with a child-like voice to represent the emotional immaturity of Eve, Fitzpatrick lifted the first half of act one with catchy hit “Spark of Creation.” As Eve bit the forbidden fruit, shadows of danger and despair played across Fitzpatrick’s face as Eve came into full world knowledge. Before delivering the exquisite act one finale “Children of Eden,” Fitzpatrick again proved her mastery of the monologue by capturing the spontaneous, sensitive, confidential tone she displayed in Flowerchildren. Finally, after a long wait in act two, Fitzpatrick brought down the house with gospel anthem “Ain’t it Good?.”
David Harris proved an inspired choice for the dual roles of everyman Adam and patriarch Noah. With curly hair and a light beard, gorgeous leading man Harris adopted a naturally down-to-earth look and an understated playing style for these key roles, his gentle charisma shining through in both characterisations. In excellent voice, Harris delivered a moving rendition of Noah’s lament “The Hardest Part of Love.”
In a welcome return to the Australian stage, Josh Piterman delivered his trademark energy and vitality as aggressively restless Cain, son of Adam, and passionately noble Japeth, son of Noah. Piterman rocked Cain’s stirring ballad “Lost in the Wilderness,” and delivered a sensitive, touching performance of the duet “In Whatever Time We Have.”
Relative newcomer Akina Edmonds quickly won over the audience with a sensational performance in act two as Japeth’s forbidden love Yonah. Demonstrating tremendous vocal range and power, Edmonds thrilled the crowd with soaring ballad “Stranger to the Rain,” followed by the heartfelt “In Whatever Time We Have” with Piterman.
Experienced actor Marty Rhone experienced some vocal distress in the opening number before settling into the role of Father, providing a warm presence.
Full company work was greatly enhanced by the depth of talent in the ensemble, with Rebecca Moore, Jessica Barlow, Stephen Valeri and Rosa McCarty being just a few examples of singers who are lead performers in their own right.
The memories of the fine concert stagings of Godspell, Pippin and now Children of Eden will live as special memories for all who attended this lovingly produced triptych. Special mention to Margaret Fisk for her tireless work behind the scenes as co-producer and production manager.
Photos: Angelo Leggas
This review published on Theatre People 24 September 2013