What did Stephen Schwartz say when he got an email from a college sophomore asking to adapt his epic two-act musical Children of Eden for younger performers? Yes.
Lindsay Maron, a 20-year-old college sophomore at Northwestern University and founder of New Jersey's Pixie Dust Players — a theatre company solely for children and teenagers to perform for audiences of all ages — was passionate about the musical and emailed Schwartz for his blessing.
"I just told him how much I loved the show," Maron told Playbill.com. "I told him that I had a lot of experience working with Junior versions and with kids, and I kind of had an idea of what would work and what wouldn't work and, also, how I felt the show should be adapted to keep the parts that are very important to Stephen Schwartz — like the parallels and the music, which is my favorite part of this show. I guess he liked my email because he sent it along to MTI."
Schwartz's team forwarded Maron's message to Music Theatre International, which licenses the property and had workshopped a Broadway Junior version of Children of Eden in the past. Although MTI's Junior version was put on hold (and still continues in a workshop phase), the licensing company and Schwartz granted Maron permission to adapt Children of Eden.
Though Maron is not an official creative on a definitive version in MTI's Junior catalogue, Music Theatre International is still involved. Maron is sending her changes along to MTI — which are then forwarded to Schwartz for approval — and the licensing company hopes to see her finished product. It is possible, after Maron's staging of Children of Eden, that she could further develop the piece alongside the professional team.
"We hope to have someone go down and see it," Drew Cohen, the president of MTI, told Playbill.com by phone. "We did start along the path for Junior forChildren of Eden, and it would certainly be informative to see how someone who is knowledgeable about the show — as a fan of the show, and also someone who is a potential customer for the Junior version — would conceive an abridged version of Children of Eden."
Maron said, "They basically gave me the script to look at and the drafts that they've done before and gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it. Most recently, I did a reading here at Northwestern — of my current draft — and then following that, I sent them my proposed script with a summary of my changes and why I felt the changes should be made. Within 24 hours, they responded and approved all of the changes. It's been a very easy collaboration… They seem to trust me with it, which is exciting."
The reading at Northwestern University was held Feb. 22. A full production (with children ages 6-18) will bow this summer at the Summit Playhouse in New Jersey with previews scheduled July 17-19 (tentatively opening on July 23 or 24) for a run through Aug. 2.
When asked about giving Maron permission to adapt the piece, Schwartz's team said, "When Ms. Maron approached us with a proposal to work on a Jr. version of Children of Eden, it was very clear she understood the show. Her thoughtful approach to putting together a Jr. version made us feel comfortable letting her give it a go. A couple of years ago, Music Theatre International produced a workshop of a Jr. version that was basically the first act of the show. The presentation went very well — so much so that Mr. Schwartz felt confident a Jr. version was attainable. We look forward to seeing what Ms. Maron comes up with and hearing reports on how it goes."
With Children of Eden, Maron said that her goal is to "reduce the complexity" to a manageable length for children ("without removing the beauty and the complexity of the story and music," she added). The piece is based on the Book of Genesis and tells the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel in Act I and the story of Noah and the Flood in Act II.
"I kept most of the songs — at least in some capacity — because I think the story is really told through the music, so it's all really important," explained Maron. "In a bunch of cases, I would just remove a verse or two of songs — anything that was redundant and not necessarily showing the parallels, which are so essential to the show. I made sure to really keep lots of featured parts because I think that's important in the Junior version… I minimized some of the script… and then I took out some of the Father material because I felt like it would be harder for a young performer to portray that role in a way that's as powerful as it is in a production with a larger age range."
Maron said that two of Father's songs that have been cut are "Father's Day" and "The Gathering Storm." The goal is to trim the musical to run between 60 and 70 minutes in one act (but incorporate both "acts" seen in the large-scale version). To connect the two stories (Act I and Act II), "Children of Eden" (the Act I finale) fades into "Generations" (the Act II opening).
"I think some of the biggest issues are yet to come because this show requires such a large vocal range, especially for the lead roles, so I think it's going to be an interesting challenge this summer to work with the actors and figure out keys and maybe alternative notes to be more manageable for the younger voices and, similarly, condense the harmonies," Maron said. "We [explored] that in the reading, and it was all very doable, it's just something that we're going to have to play around with."
Auditions for the Pixie Dust Players' production of Children of Eden will be March 17 in New Jersey and March 18 at Ripley-Grier Studios in Manhattan. For more information, visit PixieDustPlayers.org.