Children of Eden was originally written in 1986 as Family Tree for a production by Youth Sing Praise, a religious-oriented high school theatre camp at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. Stephen Schwartz adapted the script and music of Family Tree into a full-length musical, giving it the title it uses today.
The original cast production of Children of Eden was developed as a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) workshop, directed by John Caird, and starring Ken Page as Father, Richard Lloyd-King as Snake, Martin Smith as Adam, Shezwae Powell as Eve, Adrian Beaumont as Cain, Kevin Colson as Noah, Earlene Bentley as Mama Noah, Frances Ruffelle as Yonah, Anthony Barclay as Japeth, Craig Pinder as Shem, Ray Shell as Ham, Hiromi Itoh as Aysha and Ruthie Henshall as Aphra. After the RSC's budget was cut, it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in London's West End on January 8, 1991. The show closed on April 6, 1991 to poor reviews and after the Persian Gulf War put a damper on tourism worldwide.
The show's poor reviews and quick closing meant that any hope of a Broadway transfer was abandoned. The original London cast album was released on LP and CD, but quickly went out of print. The CD release was marred by manufacturing defects that caused most of the discs to "bronze", becoming unplayable. Consequently, a playable copy of the disc is highly prized by musical theatre collectors. Schwartz believes the show has not played on Broadway because of the expense required to produce it in an Actor's Equity house, due to the cast of characters.
There is an extremely rare concept recording of the show that exists. The recording features Stephen Schwartz himself playing the piano. The recording was made before the Papermill Playhouse production in an effort to review the rewrites and revisions. The recording was made available only for a limited time on Stephen Schwartz's website via RealAudio streaming. The recording is considered to be the rarest version of the show that exists. Only a handful of people possess CD or digital copies of it, including Stephen Schwartz himself and Michael Kohl.
Throughout the 1990s, the show received numerous productions at both the amateur and professional levels; it was also reworked and edited, with songs and scenes being added and cut. In 1997, a major production was mounted at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, featuring Stephanie Mills. A cast recording of this production was produced by Schwartz himself. This revised version, commonly known as the "American version" or "Paper Mill version", is substantially what is currently licensed for production in the United States. The New York City premiere of the piece was as the inaugural World AIDS Day Concert presented by Jamie McGonnigal and Kate Shindle. The concert featured Julia Murney, Norm Lewis, Darius de Haas, and Jai Rodriguez and raised funds for The National AIDS Fund. The show's publisher, Music Theater International, reports that Children of Eden is one of its top 20 most frequently licensed properties, which is very unusual for a show that has never had a Broadway or Off-Broadway run. Its popularity is partly due to its ability to accommodate a large or small cast; its universal themes of family, love, greed, anger, and others; and its religious material, which make it a favorite for churches, synagogues, and post-secondary schools. The most recent production of Children of Eden was played at NIDA (St. Andrews), Sydney, Australia, on the second and third weekends of March, 2011. A world premiere of the symphonic version will run in Kansas City from July 15 to 24, 2011, accompanied by a 55-piece orchestra.