THEATER REVIEW: “Aida” @ Karamu by Roy Berko

Through Sun 6/16

Originally planned to be a Disney animated movie, as a follow-up to Elton John and Tim Rice’s mega-hit The Lion King, the stage musical Aida is based on Antonio Ghislanzoni and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera by the same name. Elton John’s score contains a mélange of musical styles including reggae, Motown, gospel, pop and even has some African musical influences.

The decision to do the script as a live production, based on its critical and audience success, was seemingly wise. The musical clocked over 1800 performances during its four-year Broadway run. It won four Tony Awards and was named by Time magazine as one of the top ten theatre productions.

The story starts in the Egyptian wing of a museum. A man and woman catch eyes as a statue of Amneris, a female Pharaoh, starts to relate a tale about ancient Egypt centering on Radames, captain of the Egyptian army, who has just returned from a battle with the country’s long-time enemy, Nubia.   Unknown to him is that among the Nubians he captured and has brought back to Egypt is Aida, the princess of Nubia. Radames, of course, falls in love with Aida, complicating his father Chief Minister Zoser’s plans for the death of the Pharaoh via poisoning, having Radames marry Princess Amneris, thus making Radames the next ruler of Egypt.

As in any good musical, the songs tell the tale: “Every Story Is a Love Story” and “Fortune Favors the Brave” and “It Is Written in the Stars” that the star crossed-lovers will be joined together in eternity, as they are sealed in a tomb together for life ever after.

The musical ends, as it began, back in the museum, where the spirit of Amneris reveals that as she became Pharaoh, “the lovers’ deaths gave birth to a reign of peace between Egypt and Nubia. She watches as the modern man and woman are strangely drawn to each other. They are the reincarnations of Aida and Radames, finding each other in a new beginning.”

The scenic design by Inda Blatch-Geib works well. The costume designs are outstanding. The clothing is made with flair and creativity.   The same, however, cannot be said for the musical direction and sound design. The overly loud orchestra often drowned out the actors and singers. There were also microphone squeals.

Treva Offutt’s choreography was creative, but, unfortunately, the enthusiastic, but challenged performers, were sometimes out of step. The vocal and choral sounds were outstanding.

Mary-Francis R. Miller was captivating as Aida. She has a strong singing voice and did an excellent job of singing meanings, not words, while creating a believable strong princess. There was a seeming lack of physical connection between Miller and Darrell Hill, who portrayed Radames, as a caricature, rather than a real person. Their duets, “Enchantment Passing Through,” “Elaborate Lives” and “Written in the Stars” were excellent.

Joshua McElroy was character right for Mereb, the Nubian servant to Radames. Sidney Edwards did a wonderful Valley Girl imitation as Amneris. She has a strong singing voice, effectively belting “Every Story Is a Love Story.”

Capsule judgment: In evaluating productions, it is important that a reviewer take into consideration the venue and the company doing the show.   Karamu’s Aida cannot be compared to the Broadway or professional touring company. None of the youngish cast are Equity members. They range from being seasoned community and educational theater performers to stage newbies. That taken into consideration, audiences should enjoy themselves with this Tony Sias-directed production.

For tickets to Aida, which runs through Sun 6/16 call 216-795-7077 or go to karamuhouse.org/.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: Cleveland Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association]

 

 

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