When you think of musical theatre lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz, such Broadway hits as “Godspell”, “Working”, “Pippin” or 2003’s mega-hit, “Wicked” surely come to mind. With Circle Players’ March 18-April 3 run of one of Schwartz’s lesser-known shows, “Children of Eden”, Nashville area theaterati will likely be singing the praises of that show too, thanks to Circle’s long-standing record for presenting spectacular theatre and their latest collaboration with director, Joshua Waldrep.
No stranger to Nashville’s community, Waldrep has appeared on stage in everything from Street Theatre Company’s “Chess in Concert” and The Larry Keeton Theatre’s “Chicago” to several Circle Players productions including “Ragtime”, “The Addams Family”, “Titanic” and “Band Geeks”. Having proven his talents on stage as an actor and singer time and time again, Waldrep has also become a force to be reckoned with behind the scenes. Among his most notable earlier forays behind the scenes, Waldrep was production assistant for Circle’s brilliant presentation of “The Color Purple”, co-directed by Clay Hillwig and Tim Lawson, and one of the most spectacular stage shows ever presented in the Nashville area. More recently, Waldrep has stepped up his game, taking on the challenge of directing. First he directed Circle’s 2014 staging of “Dreamgirls”, then just last year he captained their hilarious vision of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. Later this week he’s at the helm once again as Circle Players presents Steven Schwartz’ “Children of Eden”.
While “Children of Eden” may not be as familiar to theatre fans as the mammoth that is “Wicked”, the off-Broadway scripture-based tale has been a favorite of regional theatre companies since it’s early 90s debut. The show also holds a special place in Waldrep’s theatrical past.
With opening night just a day away, I spoke with Waldrep about his latest directorial effort. “I did the show as a senior in high school in 1999 and fell in love with the piece at that time,” remembered Waldrep. He then revealed, “That was the year of Columbine school shootings so some of the lyrics in the show really hit home for me–“Our hands can choose to drop the knife. Our hearts can choose to stop the hating for every moment of our lives is the beginning”–What made it more emotional for us is that we received a bomb threat one evening when the choir was rehearsing the show after school and the police had to remove us from the building. Of course the threat was a hoax but it pulled us all together during that time when school shootings weren’t so common.”
For his production, Waldrep has gathered a cast composed of both familiar faces and newcomers. Among them: David Arnold as Father, Lauren Jones as Eve, Wesley King as Adam, Steven Griffin as Cain, Austin Querns as Abel, Brian Jones as Noah and LaDarra Jackel as Mama.
Of his cast, Waldrep beamed, “I have assembled a wonderful group of local favorites but I’m also known for casting new faces and there are a lot of them with this show. Everyone has been such a pleasure to work with. Their patience over two months of rehearsing with crappy weather and their dedication to this show and Circle are very humbling. Every time we asked something of this cast, they always obliged and did so with grace and enthusiasm.”
Continuing his gratitude for such a hard-working cast, Waldrep said, “Many have expressed their thanks to me and my crew for making this show and rehearsal process so fun and enjoyable.”
On seeing his vision of Schwartz’s take on the book of Genesis, Waldrep admitted, “I loved seeing them come into this process as an individual but watching them all walk away as one family.” Perhaps subconsciously alluding to a lyric from “For Good” from Schwartz’s “Wicked”, Waldrep continued, “That’s the true power of theatre, how it can change people for the better. That’s one of the messages of “Children of Eden”. We all have the power to change the world around us by joining hands and sharing love and life and becoming one.”
Circle Players’ “Children of Eden” opens Friday, March 18 and runs through Sunday, April 3 at Z. Alexander Looby Theatre (2301 Rosa Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228) with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Click Here for tickets or more information.
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