A critical review of "Aida," Disney's theatrical production based on Verdi's famous opera.
After successfully transforming their animated features "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King " for the stage, Disney's production team turned to "Aida," one of the most popular operas, for its next theatrical production. But while a comparison to Verdi's masterpiece is unfair for a variety of reasons, Disney's version fails on its own terms as well.
To be sure, the production is up to Disney's standards with dazzling Technicolor lighting by Natasha Katz and witty, striking sets and costumes by Bob Crowley, and the cast for the most part delivers the goods. But Elton John's score skims the surface of the story's emotional potential and the book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang is more concerned with anachronistic jokes than creating characters of any depth or complexity.
Tim Rice, "Aida"'s lyricist, seems forever fated to be teamed up with successful pop composers--first with Andrew Lloyd Webber, then with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba fame and now with Elton John. His gifts seems to have never developed beyond a facile competency. This "Aida" has its share of banal lyrics, but in all fairness, John's score is equally insipid, leaving the success of "Aida" up to the production team and the cast.
The basic story line follows Verdi's opera and is fairly conventional. Aida (Simone), the daughter of the king of Nubia, Amonasro (Jerald Vincent) is taken prisoner by the Egyptians where she catches the attention of Radames (Patrick Cassidy). Radames, a high-ranking military officer is betrothed to Amneris (Kelli Fournier), the daughter of Pharaoh (Mark La Mura). The expected love triangle ensues with Radames and Aida falling in love much against the wishes of their respective parents and particularly Amneris.
This version of the story does add some twists that could have made for more compelling situations. For example, when Aida is given as a slave to Amneris, rather than immediately becoming rivals for Radames, a companionship develops and Aida becomes more friend and confidante to Amneris. But the potential for developing the relationship in Act II when Amneris discovers that her friend has become her rival goes for nil as the book presses on to the end.
And the story takes too much time to get going, making detours for a weak, underdeveloped subplot involving Radames's ambitious, scheming father, Zoser (Neal Benari) and an amusing but wholly gratuitous fashion show, "My Strongest Suit" to introduce Amneris, which features Elton John at his most superficial.
A couple of times his score rises above the general level of Disneyesque pop to address the emotional content. The Act I finale, "The Gods Love Nubia" is a stirring anthem that starts as a gentle murmur and builds to a soaring hymn to their country. The duet "Elaborate Lives" for Radames and Aida works the first time around, but when it appears again at the end, it's a poor substitute for a moving farewell for the doomed couple.
Somehow, most of the cast rises above the material, a tribute both to their individual gifts and Robert Falls's sharp, concise direction. His eye for compelling stage pictures and knack for clear, uncluttered story telling keep the focus of this Aida on the performers rather than the production. Not an easy feat given the eye-catching visuals.
But then again, Falls is lucky enough to have Simone in the title role. This young actress, the only daughter of Nina Simone, has a cat-like grace and strength perfectly suited to the role. Her elegant carriage immediately convinces one that this is a woman of royal blood while her strong, confident gestures reveal her impulsive, passionate nature. Simone's clarion, powerful voice pulses with emotional fervor and a rich palate of colors.
Fournier is a plucky, feminine Amneris, the only character who seems to grow and develop during the course of the show. She starts off as a flighty material girl singing about her passion for clothes, but by the end, her experiences with love, loss, and betrayal render her a wiser, more compassionate woman. Fournier deftly develops Amneris's growth with a sure touch, finding more opportunities than the book provides for developing the character's complexity.
Cassidy doesn't seem to worry a bit about either his character's lack of complexity or its inconsistencies. But he looks great, sounds just fine (despite a couple of vocal glitches at key moments) and throws himself into the role of Radames with energy and commitment. He seems a little uncomfortable in the hokey "Fortune Favors the Brave" that opens the show, but in his ballads and the duet with Aida, he is on surer footing and the voice opens up appealingly.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag, all of them capable performers, but some of them more suited to their roles than others. Jerald Vincent makes a strong, defiant Amonasro, but Neal Benari's Zoser seems out of place and Jacen R. Wilkerson's Mereb never gels.
In the end, the strongest impression of Aida is of Simone's striking portrayal of the title role and the equally striking production. But as for the score and book, they make no more lasting an impression than writing in the sands of Egypt.
Many of the 1,000+ articles on Frugal Fun and Frugal Marketing have been gathered into magazines. If you'd like to read more great content on these topics, please click on the name of the magazine you'd like to visit.
Global Travel Review - Global Arts Review - Peace & Politics Magazine
Frugal Marketing Tips - Frugal Fun Tips - Positive Power of Principled Profit
Site copyright © 1996-2011 by Shel Horowitz