Children of Eden, Porchlight Theatre, at the Theatre Building Chicago. Though Stephen Schwartz's New Testament musical Godspell was a hit, his 1991 Old Testament treatment escaped fame. Children of Eden has since enjoyed a second coming, and Porchlight's Chicago premiere shows why. The score is a savvy mix of pop earnestness and Broadway sparkle, and Wm. Eric Bramlett's forthright 150-minute staging fully exploits Schwartz's ability to give epics (like Pippin and The Prince of Egypt too) communal warmth and surprising intimacy.
Schwartz and librettist John Caird clearly sympathize with those biblical iconoclasts who repudiate innocence and risk the curse of choice, like Eve (powerfully played by Megan Van De Hey); Cain, whose curiosity proves fatal; and Noah, who allows his son to marry outside the clan. God is a control freak (authoritatively played by Timothy Jon) who presides over his fractious family with perverse impatience, loving them only when they're ready to die.
Though not as melodically memorable as any number in Godspell, the songs strike fire as performed by Bramlett's huge ensemble. The serene title ballad soars effortlessly, equaled in its wallop only by the gospel rouser "Ain't It Good." There's soft-shoe slinkiness to the Snake's signature number and tenderness to "In Whatever Time We Have," warmly sung by Nicholas Foster and Meaghan Hurley. Especially appealing are the children in Children.