Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Aida Visits San Francisco
Aida came booming into the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco with its high tech stage effects and spectacular lighting designs. There is no doubt about it, Aida is a beautiful production. On the large Orpheum stage it does not look like a bus and truck tour show. It looks like a big Broadway show.
I am not a great fan of Elton John's music and I don't think Tim Rice's lyrics are all that great. We saw the original production at the Palace Theater in New York with Heather Headley, Adam Pascal and Sherie Rene Scott. I had mixed emotions about the musical then and I told our companions that this was one album that I probably would not buy. I just could not appreciate the humdrum score. What saved that production for me was Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott who were wonderful in the rock opera. Wayne Cilento's choreography was a mess in the New York production and it still is here in San Francisco.
Although this Elton John/Tim Rice creation is meant to be the story of Aida, Radames and Amneris and their romantic triangle, their entanglements take a back seat to the visual artists. This production belongs to scenic and costume designer Bob Crowley, and to lighting designer Natasha Katz, both of whom won Tony awards for their work on Aida. The lighting is breathtaking. They create a psychedelic fantasy soaked in color and boundless in scope. The Nile scene is brilliantly evoked by the palm trees reflected on the water. There are many designs full of triangles which suggest the pyramids as well as the love triangle of the plot. The plot is somewhat based on Giuseppe Verdi's 1871 opera. It tells the story of Aida, the Nubian princess stolen from her country; her captor, the Egyptian noble Radames and his fiance Amneris, the future queen. Aida and Radames became amorously involved and their prohibited love forces all three to make choices that will greatly affect their lives.
Patrick Cassidy gives a vibrant performance as Radames. His voice and acting are powerful and he looks like a leader of the Egyptian army. Where Adam Pascal had a boyish look and raspy voice, Patrick has a virile look and clear voice. Simone is a passionate performer with a strong voice. Her delivery of "Easy as Life" is heartbreaking. She plays the role more aggressively than Heather Headley. Simone is rougher where Heather was more ethereal.
Kelli Fournier, as Amneris, is excellent in the role but I think Sherie Rene Scott had a better handle on the character. Sherie was more like Melanie Griffith or Leslie Ann Warren of Victor/Victoria film fame whereas Kelli started out like these two, but somehow lost her campiness after the first scene. On Broadway, I thought the song "My Strongest Suit" and the Egyptian fashion show was real camp and a highlight of the show. Here I did not get that feeling. It just sort of lays there with little or no life. Oh, the costumes are fantastic, but somehow it lacks the zest. Kelli does shine in the beautiful "I Know the Truth". This is a show-stopper. Neal Benari, as Radames' scheming father, is properly villainous. He has a good clear voice and he looks more like a father to Radames then his Broadway counterpart. Jacen R. Wilkeson is adequate as the clever slave but I thought he was just too robust for the part.
Elton John's score does not have the precision of a Rodgers and Hammerstein score nor the style of a Cole Porter or Gershwin score. Mr. John's melodies range from bittersweet ballads to gospel renditions, reggae and retro-rock sounds. It does not rank anywhere near Sondheim, LaChiusa, Lippa or some of our new up and coming composers. There are really no witty tunes you can enjoy unless you want to call "My Strongest Suit" witty. I found that song merely comic.
I once again found that the production does not flow, but that it jerks from scene to scene. Some of the scenes do not have any hooks to keep them connected to the story. Even the subplots, like the attempt to poison the Pharaoh, are not covered adequately. Also, this whole production looks like The Lion King. I kept thinking that Samba, Rafiki or Nala would come to rescue Aida and Radames; the "Disney touch"?
However, if you want to see wonderful sets, great lighting and hear some very good singing, I say go for it. Aida will play until September 1st. They can be purchased by visiting ticketmaster.com or calling (415)512-7770. Tickets are also available at the Orpheum Theatre box office. They range from $22.50 to $76.50.