Based on my recent visit to Jesters Dinner Theatre in Longmont, one thing is abundantly clear: Jesters has recommitted itself to being the best darn dinner theatre it can be.
When I last ventured in to this quaint, little theatre on Main Street some years ago, I came away with a very low opinion of the food and only a slightly better one of the performance. My experience this time around was decidedly more positive in every way. Because I still suffer the lingering psychological effects of my last meal at Jesters, I didn’t partake of the pre-show dinner. I am happy to note, however, that the food being served around me looked wellprepared, and the diners seemed to be enjoying the fare.
Like the food, the performance was also much improved. Jesters’ iteration of Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden boasts elementary but effective production design, some standout acting and a tangible dedication from everyone both on stage and behind the scenes. The exceptionally large cast of more than 20 actors may not be ready for Broadway, but they are clearly driven to put on the best show they know how.
Speaking of Broadway, let’s posit for the moment that Broadway is the pinnacle of musical theatre on the quality continuum.
If you expect the same level of quality from the woman in the Chewbacca costume on Pearl Street banging on buckets and pie pans as you do from Les Miserables on Broadway, you’re going to have a bad time. The better approach is to match your expectations to your environment.
As much growth as Jesters Dinner Theatre has shown, it remains a small, local, underfunded, community theatre affair. Children of Eden, therefore, is presented with minimal frills, few props and only the most basic of costuming. The acting is by and large amateurish, and the singing evidences more confidence than accomplishment.
This is not to say that there aren’t some high points. Taking top acting honors are Jesters’ owner, Scott Moore and Madeline Hebert. Moore plays the part of God with the requisite gravitas but also manages to inject some sly humor into his portrayal. The truest joy of Children of Eden, though, is Hebert. She shows the widest emotional range and gives by far the most convincing overall performance in the role of Noah’s servant, Yonah.
Jesters Dinner Theatre’s description of Children of Eden claims that the musical is “freely based on” the book of Genesis. When I saw the phrase “freely based on,” I read into it that Children of Eden would be a new take on some very old material. I assumed that rather than simply retelling the tales of Adam and Eve and Noah, the show would tweak things with an ironic or otherwise novel approach. Maybe there would even be dinosaurs or time travel or Cirquestyle acrobatics.
Well, we all know what happens when we assume things. Other than a few marginally clever lyrics — like the bark of the trees being rough but not too rough in the “Golly Gee, Isn’t Eden Awesome?!” song and a couple of typically misogynistic shots at Eve, Children of Eden plays like Old Testament 101. The stories are structured and conveyed like something straight out of Sunday school — up to and including the unequivocal message that life is meaningless unless you procreate. It’s more a recitation of the Bible than any kind of “freely based on” interpretation of it.
So if Judeo-Christian creationism is your thing, whether you’re a devout believer or you’re an atheist who enjoys poking logic holes in it like Swiss cheese, Children of Eden may be the show for you. If you’re in the latter camp, you’ll definitely get a kick out of the way the costumes in the opening scenes make the cast look for all the world like they’re in a cult, a fact completely overlooked and unmentioned even though history shows that most religions start out as cults and only much later obtain a patina of legitimacy.
ON THE BILL: Children of Eden, through July 12, Jesters Dinner Theatre, 224 Main Street, Longmont, www.jesterstheatre.com, $16 and up.