In the beginning was ... well, what, exactly?
A person of faith would say the universe began with God, the creator. A person of science might speak of primeval atoms and an immense cosmic explosion.
"Creation," a new presentation at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, dovetails both views, acknowledging scientific explanation as part of the larger dream, or plan, of a creator -- referred to, as all-embracingly as possible, as "the presence." Not surprisingly from the folks who annually draw 130,000 people to "The Glory of Christmas" show and 30,000 to "The Glory of Easter," this story is writ large inside the inspiring glass-sheathed structure that houses the Rev. Robert H. Schuller's ministry. A bit Cirque du Soleil, a bit "Lion King," a bit Disneyland, the multimedia presentation is dazzling if bloated.
Envisioned, written and directed by Carol Schuller Milner, the reverend's daughter, the show incorporates computer-generated imagery, projected onto a 200-foot-wide screen; aerial choreography by performers who glide, somersault and execute parachute-team formations; parades of puppet fish and animals; and a portentous score by "The Passion of the Christ" orchestrator Jeff Atmajian.
The wail of city traffic subsides into an ethereal hum of strings and a tinkle of keyboard as, on screen, the view of a big-city skyline retreats through trees to a placid lake. From high overhead, a rowboat descends. In it are actors portraying Michael (at Thursday's opening played by Timothy Milner), a youth of about 13, and his grandfather (Robert Munns), known as "Gramps." Michael, whose mind is attuned to science, is contemplating the watery ecosystem beneath their boat when Gramps casually says, "It never ceases to amaze me that someone made all this."
So begins a gentle back and forth as Michael insists on scientific explanations while Gramps -- folksily insisting that not believing can mean "you'll miss a lot of beauty" -- relates the biblical story of creation.
On screen, the bob on a fishing line comes sailing at us, hits the water, sinks for a moment and reemerges, transformed into planet Earth. As if through time-reverse photography, the continents drift back into a consolidated landmass. The perspective continues to recede through glowing stars and beyond a cosmic vortex, until all that remains are atom-like swirls of color. Dancers appear in the aisles, twirling glowing sticks.
A synopsis in the program explains that this represents "quantum irregularities that lead us to subatomic particles. These collect and merge allowing light to escape. Let there be light!" A corresponding Bible verse, Genesis 1:2-3, is noted.
The fall of Lucifer (aerial artist Carson Coulon, at the opening) takes the story from the heavens to lowly Earth, where a puppet depicting a primordial fish -- fanged, emitting its own light -- undulates across the stage. Soon, an aerialist wearing wings and a long beak is circling overhead as a pteranodon; on the ground, a towering T. rex, manipulated by seven puppeteers, eyes the audience hungrily.
The dinosaurs eventually give way to a parade of puppet animals, including a massive gorilla with a youngster on its back and a kangaroo with a baby in its pouch.
Adam and Eve (aerialists C. Derrick Jones and Nehara Kalev, at the opening) emerge from womblike streams of fabric and engage in an erotic midair ballet before disappearing, for what an embarrassed Gramps hints is the act of procreation -- thus, sending the audience into intermission on a surprisingly earthy note.
Although the chronology alludes to continental drift and an explosion of cosmic energy, the overarching theory remains rather vague, while avoiding evolution altogether. There's nothing here, really, to agitate either the religious-minded or science-oriented communities.
Still, this is a church presentation, so it comes as no surprise when Michael finally admits to Gramps: "I'm thinking that your belief is bigger, your story is stronger, your faith is more inviting than my doubt."
Where: Crystal Cathedral, 12141 Lewis St., Garden Grove
When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Ends: July 17
Price: $14 to $51
Contact: (800) 549-6177 or www.creationlive.com
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes