by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Billy Mason sees his role in Pittsburgh Musical Theater's "Children of Eden" as a homecoming of sorts.
"I cut my acting teeth as a singer, dancer and actor at Ken Gargaro Productions, which eventually became what is now Pittsburgh Musical Theater," said the 33-year-old Swissvale resident who hails from Greensburg. "To be back with such wonderful people as Emily Miller and to be working with Colleen Petrucci again it's like coming home for me.
"This is one of my favorite shows because it touches on my faith of being raised Christian," continued Mason who performed in the production as a student at the Boston Conservatory of Music where he earned his bachelor's of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. "It deals with Adam and Eve and Noah and what choices they made back then and how it affects the choices we make each day. It takes a humorous turn, which makes it more relatable to people."
Loosely based on the first Book of the Bible, Genesis, "Children of Eden" retells the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah and his sons and the Father who created them in a humorous and heartfelt way. The show, which boasts a sprawling 113-member cast, is filled with soaring melodies and familiar stories and is the perfect adventure for the entire family.
"Children of Eden was originally written in 1986 for a production by a religious oriented high school theater camp and performed in Belleville, IL. songwriter Stephen Schwartz adapted the script and music into a full length musical. The original cast production of "Children of Eden" was developed as a workshop and opened in London's West End on January 8, 1991. The show closed on April 6 of that same year to poor reviews.
That quick closing doused any hope of the show having a Broadway run, Despite that, "Children of Eden" received numerous productions on the community and regional theater front, In 1997, a major production was put on in New Jersey featuring singer Stephanie Mills.
Despite "Children of Eden's" history, Pittsburgh Musical Theater, in collaboration with Robert Morris University, will present the production at the Byham Theater through March 17. Tickets begin at $12 and are available by calling 412- 456-6666. Groups of 10 or more should call 412-471-6930. For more information visit www.pittsburghmusicals.com.
"While there are some differences in the text of "Children of Eden" from the biblical accounts, the spirit, faith and essence of both accounts is preserved," said musical director, Ken Gargaro. "God is portrayed as a loving creator who repeatedly acts to save humanity even when the race fails him.
"As well at this time of year, when most of our brothers and sisters are approaching Easter and Passover, a thoughtful foray into the stories that provide insight into renewal of shattered lives, awe at the power of the Lord, reconciliation within families and the great gift of responsibility associated with free will seems prudent," Gargaro continued.
Mason will be understudying the role of Father, which is being played by PMT alum, Brady Patsy.
"This is an epic show. What you will see is something unusual but deep down it is a story about family, choices, freedom and redemption," Mason said. "We know about Adam and Eve and the flood, but universally "Children of Eden" is about mothers, fathers and relationships," Mason said.
Although Mason honed his craft under Ken Gargaro, he began singing and dancing in high school. Soon after, a friend turned him on to Gargaro Productions. He was cast in his first production, "Crazy For You" in 1996 as an ensemble tap dancer. He had only been tap dancing for a few months.
Mason said he performed in about 12-13 musical productions with Gargaro Productions over a three-year period.
Pittsburgh Musical Theater was founded in 1990 with the vision of creating a regional musical theater company committed to quality productions of the best of Pittsburgh's own professional talent at a price affordable to all residents, especially children and families. Its mission has since expanded to include a strong commitment to training, education and outreach programs through its Richard E. Rauh Conservatory for Musical Theater. General music education and appreciation programs are offered for students ages 4-18. The pre-college program, a highly structured, accredited program, is designed for high schoolers with serious aspirations for careers in the performing arts.
"One of the main reasons I entered the business of theater was because it gave me the chance to be a part of escapism for two to two and a half hours." explained Mason who was groomed throughout his life to be an attorney before he jumped on the theater bandwagon. "When times are hard, we look to things that help us escape hard times."
Prior to returning to Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Mason served as artistic director of the Greensburg-based Latshaw Pops Orchestra. In that role, Mason was responsible for shaping the cast of dancers and singers in the shows the orchestra put on as well as choreographing musical numbers.
"It became a one man band for the things that I did," said Mason who enjoys cooking and spending time with friends and family when he is not performing. "I loved doing the orchestral work, but I missed theater work. I am excited to be doing it again."
Gargaro hopes that audience members connect with the amazing Pittsburgh Musical Theater cast and the themes in "Children of Eden."
"Imagine yourselves among 1,200 people with a shared voice of righteousness sitting on a hillside, watching a group of talented performers recount the inspirational stories of our ancestors, to a setting sun and the illumination of torches," Gargaro said. "Imagine, as well, how powerfully that experience can lift one out of our mundane existence into the realm of renewal, responsibility and reconciliation. It is my hope that "Children of Eden" will inspire this emotional reaction."
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