Piane Productions Presents New Version of "Children of Eden"

Several new theater companies have popped up in Kansas City in the last couple of years, adding breadth and depth to the local theater calendar.One of the latest, incorporated just last December, is Piane Productions.

Kansas City, Mo. – Several new theater companies have popped up in Kansas City in the last couple of years, adding breadth and depth to the local theater calendar.One of the latest, incorporated just last December, is Piane (pronounced pee-AHN-ee) Productions. And judging by the scale of its latest show, "Children of Eden," opening this week, it's nothing if not ambitious.

In the years between composing the musicals "Godspell" and "Wicked," and winning three Oscars for animated Disney films, composer Stephen Schwartz took on the Book of Genesis with a piece called "Children of Eden." Though it may not have the name recognition of his other work, it has certainly never gone away.

This weekend, the U.S. premiere of a brand new orchestration will be unveiled in a production by a new Kansas City company, Piane Productions. Founder Charlie Piane says that, despite the origin of the story in the Old Testament, the show can't be contained there.

"If you're coming in looking for a good family drama, you'll appreciate it. If you do come in with a religious background, a spiritual background, you're absolutely going to find stories you're familiar with, with themes will strengthen your own opinions," says Piane. "But at the end of the day, this is not a story about religion. It's a story about family and what it means to be in love and what it means to put everything you have into someone else and see what happens with it."

Indeed, there are two families spotlighted in the show, albeit with very familiar back stories: there are Adam and Eve and their sons, and Noah, his wife (who was unnamed in the Bible), and their kids.

According to the story, Adam and Eve were both "fathered," in a sense, by God himself, played by Nathan Granner, who explains his interpretation of the role. "I love the scale of infinity going down to just being about family, about a father and his children, which is the crazy thing. God, talking to his kids, Adam and Eve, about normal stuff. Like 'Please don't go in there. I've got my reasons!' So you don't have to ask that...the eating of apple, say 'Don't eat the apple because it's bad for you.' 'Well, why?' 'Because, it's bad for you and it's time for bed.'"

What's clearly remarkable about this production, Piane says, is how the refreshed orchestration will be honored by the massive size of the show.

"At the end of the day, this show is about the music and I wanted it to sound the best that it can, and give Kansas City audiences maybe something they don't have a chance to hear something as big as this scale," says Piane. "We have a choir of about 60, our orchestra is about 50, we have a cast of 38, and then Kansas City Boys and Girls Choirs that are part of the children's ensembles."

At a recent rehearsal, Noah's wife, played by Erika Dunn, sings about the rains stopping, and she's then joined by a chorus whose big sounds belies the fact that their average age looks to be 18.

[Musical excerpt]

For a young company, it's surprising that "Children of Eden" will be performed in the cavernous Music Hall downtown. But Piane says that's the scale he saw lacking in Kansas City and hopes to provide.

"We're the new guys in town but we took the opinion, the idea that if you want to make a splash, you have to jump head first," says Piane. "There is a hole of the type of material isn't getting produced on the scale that's getting produced. KC audiences deserve the diversity of these companies, and it's about time we have a theater company who can tell the big stories on a scale that allows audience to enjoy them to their full extent."

Evidence that the company is no one trick pony, it will premiere a new rock opera about divorce called "Drift," and produce a concert in October by Broadway legend Betty Buckley.

"Children of Eden"
Music Hall
July 15-24, 2011

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