Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida premiered on Broadway at the Palace Theater on March 23, 2000, running for 1,852 performances. It received four Tony Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actress (Heather Headley).
Like the opera, the musical is an epic tale of the love triangle of Aida, a Nubian princess stolen from her country, Amneris, an Egyptian princess, and Radames, the soldier they both love. Aida and Radames' love for one another becomes a devotion so true that it ultimately transcends the vast cultural differences between their warring nations and even time itself.
The Slow Burn Theatre Company production features imposing columns and a wonderful use of lighting throughout the show. The staging at the museum at the opening and ending is nearly picture perfect, and book-ends the production beautifully. While the broad expanse of the Amaturo stage is used fully in visual sense, the choreography and staging do not always follow suit. Almost everything is focused center stage. Choreography is generally solid, but in scattered moments does not have enough purpose, and is occasionally not quite together, such as in "Like Father, Like Son." The sections highlighting joyous and energetic African-styled dance are the most enjoyable. Costuming is at its best in the parade of dresses in "My Strongest Suit."
A six-piece band plays the score very well (despite the reed entrance at the top of the show being off pitch). The ensemble sound is clear and strong, and never better than when raising the rafters in the act one closer, "The Gods Love Nubia." Their passionate singing (loved the descant being sung by Kendra Williams) actually made my arm hair stand up!
Lawrence Buzzeo is a fine Zoser, more pragmatic than villainous. As always, he is in good voice. Andre Russell has an interesting vulnerability as Mereb, but needs to go further in establishing his emotional bond to his princess turned captive, as she represents Nubia and freedom.
Finding the right balance of power and chemistry between the three leads in Aida is a tricky thing. To be honest, Amy Miller Brennan, as Amneris, runs away with the show. There is no question that she understands the character and her journey, and shows us layers and depth. There is also no question that Brennan's well-placed belt is built for roles such as this, especially as she knows how and when to pull back her sound and change her placement during moments calling for a tender or legato line. Alas, the name of the musical is not Amneris however.
Our Aida is the truly lovely Khalifa White. She sings and acts the role with sweetness and beauty. Though she carries herself well, she is missing the power and determination of the role. She appears more delicate than earthy, and she is never enough at risk. Aida must never let us forget that she is the next leader of her people, and is always fighting for their freedom. Her own romantic yearnings that are seemingly at odds with that goal provide the conflict that is tearing her apart.
Stephen Millett portrays Radames, the soldier at the center of this love triangle. Millet has an awesome pop-style voice and the good looks of a boy band singer. He fails to establish any romantic chemistry onstage with his Aida, however, and we really need that to understand all that they are sacrificing to be together. While he is polished, his presence needs to be imposing in an almost brutish way in the beginning of the show. Aida awakens the conscience in him that should soften his demeanor. The resulting arch of the character builds to that moment in which he gives away his possessions. Millett plays the young lover well, but fails to show us the arch that got him there. Like White, he also needs to be more at risk, for by being with Aida, Radames is sacrificing his future access to the throne of Egypt.
This is a production with grand music and a strong stage presence that will appeal to many. Younger audiences in particular enjoy new takes on old classics. Here is hoping that the directorial nuances mentioned may work themselves out as the actors settle into their roles, and allow them to feel the passion behind the poignant story.
Slow Burn Theatre Company will present Elton John & Tim Rice's Aidain the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale through May 7, 2017. Show times for this production are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $47-$60. For more information, visit www.slowburntheatre.com.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.