Mon Yough performers ready to shine in 'Children of Eden'
The latest collaboration between Pittsburgh Musical Theater and Robert Morris University stirs up memories for Mon Yough area performers even as they look forward to the challenges of a different production.
“Children of Eden” is based on two stories from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, but local performers involved stress it's a story about life, love, families, expectations and disappointments.
McKeesport native Nathan Sudie is bringing some maturity and life's lessons to the roles of Adam/Noah. He earned a Gene Kelly Award nomination his junior year at Serra Catholic High School when he played Father in the same show.
In another tie to his past, Sudie said Brent Alexander, the show's musical director, also directed the show when he was at Serra.
“This show is one families should go to together,” Sudie recommended. “This is the perfect time of the year to look at yourself, your family … am I holding on too much, or guiding too much from love? It's a show about humanity.” It opens Thursday and continues through March 17.
The first of two acts features the Creation story from the Bible. But instead of God, the main character is known as Father, played by Brady Patsy.
This is Sudie's first leading role in a Pittsburgh Musical Theater mainstage production. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled at CCAC South where he studied theater and appeared in ensemble and mainstage roles. He transferred to Robert Morris and is scheduled to graduate in May.
“Now that I'm 24, I see life from a different perspective,” Sudie said. “There are a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of disappointment. You have Adam and Eve and Father. He creates them, then they leave him.”
Unlike the biblical story, when Adam and Eve are forced from the Garden of Eden, Adam has a choice. He can stay with Father or join Eve in exile, and he chooses his wife in this production.
Next comes the story of Adam and Eve's oldest children, Cain and Abel. Although the storyline is different than in the Bible, the bottom line remains the same — Cain kills Abel, leaving Adam to question and improve his parenting skills as Father wonders about his own, Sudie explained.
With more than 40 musical numbers and a cast of more than 100, “Children of Eden” is very much about the music.
Music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, who wrote “Godspell” and “Wicked,” with a book by John Caird.
“The music is just beautiful,” Sudie said. “The Creation story was written as something to be passed down orally.”
He said he's also thrilled to be working with leading lady Emily Lynne Miller again. She's been featured in “Legally Blonde and most recently in PMT's “The Sound of Music.”
For seventh-grader Samantha Hawk, she'll remember performing in this production. Her mother, Kathy Hawk, a music teacher at J.E. Harrison Middle School who has staged and performed in musicals for many years, including at the Grand Theatre in Elizabeth, said Samantha made a cameo appearance at 12 weeks old when she carried her onstage during an “Eden” production in 2000 at CCAC South campus in West Mifflin.
Samantha said this is her first mainstage show for Pittsburgh Musical Theater, where she's one of the animals.
“We come on during Noah's Ark and in ‘The Naming' (of animals) in the beginning and at the end,” Samantha said. “It's really fun doing shows with my family.”
Alexis Hawk, now in her junior year at South Park High School, also was in the CCAC production as a youngster and now is a member of the moving ensemble for “Eden.” She recently played the lead role in “Annie” at the Grand Theatre.
“This ‘Children of Eden' is a new experience for me,” Alexis said. “It's the first time I've worked with such a big cast. And the pit (musicians) will be on the stage while we're performing.”
Kathy Hawk wears many hats these days, recently juggling directing the middle school musical, running her children and herself to “Eden” rehearsals and Alexis to her high school musical.
Although “Eden” is based on the Bible, she said there is a lot more behind it.
“There are so many life lessons,” she said. “Everyone has their own moral compass. It's all about choices and consequences of your choices. I think anyone can relate.”
South Allegheny chorus teacher Diane McClintock performed in the 2000 show with the Hawks. This time around, she and Kathy Hawk are storytellers, narrators who move along the tale of creation with Adam and Eve in the first act and Noah in the second.
“It's hard to choose a favorite part because I love the whole thing,” McClintock said. “It's the most beautiful music that Stephen Schwartz wrote, especially for one who loves four-part singing. It's fun to sink my teeth into something challenging. Audiences will observe a version of the Creation and a comical story of Noah and the Ark.”
Jeanie Cygrymus, another storyteller in the current production, has of late concentrated her efforts behind the scenes as a director for shows such as “Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical” and “Daddy's Girl” at the Grand Theatre and for South Park Children's Theater.
She said she performed “Children of Eden” with the Seton Pioneers in Brookline, where the grade school teacher played one of the storytellers and Mama Noah.
“That time, Ray (her husband and veteran performer in such roles as Jesus and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde) and the girls (Emily and Carly) were all in the show and it was such a wonderful experience doing it with the whole family,” Cygrymus said.
“I love all the music. I had the opportunity to perform excerpts from the show at a church concert where Ray and I got to perform one of my favorite songs, ‘In Whatever Time We Have' (from the second act),” Cygrymus said.
“Since I haven't been onstage in the past several years, I am so thrilled to be a part of one of my all-time favorite shows, and I am especially excited to perform on the Byham stage. Both acting and directing bring me such joy,” she added.
West Mifflin Area High School graduate Nina Danchenko plays Aysha, wife of Shem, one of Noah's sons. She said she saw the show twice before and loved it.
Danchenko's also no stranger to Pittsburgh Musical Theater and its shows, working her way up from the children's division to pre-professional and professional shows. She played the lead of Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.”
Now a student at Robert Morris University, Danchenko likened part of the Noah story in “Eden” to a Jewish fable.
Although she's the wife of Shem, one of Noah's sons definitely named in the Bible, the story of a third son leads to a romantic interest in the tale of the Ark, Danchenko said.
With two sons married and headed to the Ark with their families, the youngest son Japheth, who has rejected all the wife candidates proposed by his parents, insists he wants to marry Yonah, a servant girl, who is shunned because she bears a mark as a descendant of Cain. It's up to Noah to decide what to do.
“Yonah is not in the Bible,” Danchenko said. “I read what Stephen Schwartz was thinking, and he talked about Yonah adding a love interest. This is great music. ‘Wicked' is his most familiar, but this is amazing. With all the voices singing it, it is so complicated. Now I can't imagine doing the show any other way.”
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a Trib Total Media copy editor. She can be reached at 412-380-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.