Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 18, 2022

REVIEW: Escaping Eden, The Hartt School

University of Hartford, Hartford, CT
April 15-16, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Cast of Escaping Eden
Composer, lyricist, and book writer Dawson Atkin, who was also music director and lead
guitarist, calls “Escaping Eden” a “sung-through folk musical adaptation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve, which examines the story from Eve's perspective to ask questions about gender roles, free will, and the way we tell stories.”

All four cast members were Hartt musical theatre majors, ranging from freshmen to seniors. The four band members, who play two guitars, mandolin, violin, harmonica, and percussion, were all current Hartt instrumentalists. While Atkin credits Jonathan Larson (“Rent”) and Anais Mitchell (“Hadestown”) as major inspirations for “Eden,” the imaginative score and its brilliant realization by the tight ensemble also evoked “Bright Star,” the 2016 Broadway musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Like Atkin's one-man “Notes for Me and You” (reviewed by ITS in October 2020), “Escaping Eden” also works as a song cycle, especially in this staged reading. But the richer harmonies and probing interplay of multiple characters in “Eden” show considerable growth in dramatic sophistication over its predecessor. In a post-show interview, Atkin called this “first time writing my own lyrics for a show…a wonderful challenge.” They tell the “Eden” story with a Sondheim-like balance of colloquial and poetic language. 

It would be hard to imagine stronger performances than those by this well-knit cast. Highlights included: Tanner James’s transformation as Adam from contented farmer (a light-hearted “Made for Me”) to committed soulmate to his wife (a blazing “Leap of Faith”); Stephani Bauduccio’s desperate quest as Eve for “more to life than work and lentil soup” (an impassioned “Garden of Stones” and shattering “In the First Place”), Kyle Kobetsky’s evolution as the Serpent from tempter (a seductive “Eve and the Serpent”) to doubter (“The Apple Tree”), and Trenyce Nolan’s steady guidance through the story as the Creator (the opening “Let There Be Light” and closing “Epilogue”).

Atkin’s eclectic musical textures range widely among country/bluegrass (Joseph Hayes’s plucky mandolin in “Lovebirds I” and “Our Home”) to blues (Kelly Gembara’s sensuous violin in “Eve and the Serpent” and “Lullaby”) to emo rock (Wen Wen Van Der Wende’s dramatic percussion in “I Don’t Care”). This world premiere is an exciting new chapter in a promising writer’s career.