Reviewed by Claudia Perry
Elton John & Tim Rice's "AIDA", is playing at the DuPont Theatre for just five days. Winner of four Tony Awards, it was originally produced on Broadway by Disney Theatrical Productions. This Big League Theatrical production boasts a massive one unit set and a large non-Equity cast.
Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, the story is a love triangle set in ancient Egypt. At war with neighboring Nubia, the Egyptian captain Radames has just won an important victory. As part of the booty, he brings home a contingent of Nubian women as slaves. Little does he know that one of his captives, a feisty girl named Aida, is actually the Princess of Nubia. Though promised in marriage to the Pharaoh's daughter, Princess Amneris, Radames falls in love with Aida. In an effort to win Aida's heart, Radames gives back all that he has plundered to the suffering Nubian slaves. Though having a slave girl as a concubine isn't viewed as a problem, wanting to give up the Princess is. The story grows more complex when Aida's father, the King is captured and sentenced to death. The second act reveals that Zoser, the Pharaoh's adviser, who has been slowly poisoning the ailing ruler, is actually Radames father who left Radames mother to die in a brothel. Radames begs Aida to run away with him but she convinces Radames that he must marry Amneris. He agrees, but only if she will leave Egypt and sail back to her country. As the wedding of Radames and Amneris takes place Aida frees her father and flees to the riverbank. The alarm is sounded and Zoser and the Egyptian guard capture the lovers. Radames threatens his father who runs off only to be apprehended by the Pharaoh's men who discover his poisoning plot. The Pharaoh sentences the couple to treason and to death by being buried alive. But Amneris, who loves Radames and admires Aida, pleads for mercy and has them entombed together.
This version of this dramatic love story opens in the present day in a museum at an exhibit of Nubia: The Other Egypt. Princess Amneris then appears at the top of a high platform in a cloud of smoke clothed in vaporous white to sing, "Every Story is a Love Story" and we are then transported to another place - but not actually back in time. In this Aida, the citizenry is clothed in modern day dress and the Egyptian soldiers carry automatic weapons. At the end of the play we are then brought back to the present day and to this museum, where by chance the lovers meet again in another time.
The score is a mixed bag of Pop, Rock, Reggae and Gospel with soaring ballads such as Written in the Stars sung by the lovers and dramatic turns like "Easy As Life" belted out by Aida.
The three major leads are very strong. Leah Allers is simply lovely as the beautiful, vacuous but sweet Amneris with a voice that shows great control and range. Casey Elliott sings the heck out of the score and shows surprising depth and emotion as Radames, the young captain who loses his heart. Marja Harmon, as the proud Princess Aida, reminds one of a young Eartha Kitt with her small, wiry frame and determined stance. Her big, belting voice, however, is all her own. Dane Harrington Joseph possesses a wonderfully smooth voice as Mereb and his duet with Aida, "How I Know You" was one of the nicer moments in the show. Unfortunately, a lot of the dancing appeared to be very amateurish as this seemed to be a singing chorus who were given choreography that was simply too difficult for them to execute well.
The single unit set by Neil Patel was quite effective, serving first as the Museum, then the Palace and finally the Tomb where the lovers are buried It was enhanced by the different colored lighting effects behind it. The costumes by Emilio Sosa ran the gamut from glitzy glam concoctions for Princess Amneris and her entourage to drab, depressing garb for the soldiers and slaves.
The orchestra consists of 3 keyboard players, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Percussion, Cello and Reeds/Horn. Though the singers are well miked the volume is cranked up to a pretty high decibel level. But the music is rock and that's part of its drama. And when Amneris, Radames and Aida sing, "A Step Too Far" at the top of Act II with the volume cranked way up - it's pretty exciting.