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Regional Reviews by Sarah Chantal Parro

Aida
Fiddlehead Theatre Company


Christiana Rodi, Ta'NIka Gibson, and Gene Dante
Fiddlehead Theatre Company, resident theatre company at the Strand Theatre, presents a unique take on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet this month: pop-rock musical Aida, with music composed by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. Instead of fair Verona, the story is set in ancient Egypt; in place of rival families, the star-crossed lovers come from warring countries: Radames, the Romeo character, is a captain in the Egyptian army, and Aida, our Juliet, is a Nubian princess who has been captured and enslaved.

Fiddlehead's production features a powerhouse leading cast, with Ta'Nika Gibson in the role of Aida. Fueled by the combination of her booming voice and emotive acting (particularly in her first solo), all of Gibson's performances are both powerful and stirring. In this adaptation, Aida is a proud and strong-willed individual, and her character carries more weight than Juliet in the original tale. Gibson carries the hefty role with talent and grace. Formerly a student of classical voice and opera at NYU and the Eastman School of Music, Gibson is now pursuing a career in musical theatre; she has previously performed at the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 2Wice Upon a Birthday and will appear in Better with a Band with the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in New Jersey next summer.

Christiana Rodi is fantastic as Amneris, the Egyptian princess betrothed to Radames. Unlike Shakespeare's Rosaline, Amneris becomes a central player in the plot. When she first appears, she is a cross between Princess Jasmine and a Real Housewife of Orange County: most of her costumes feature gold sequins. Rodi, sassy but also sensitive, is perfect in the role, and she has the most impressive vocal range of the cast—especially in her first big number, "My Strongest Suit," but she nails them all. Rodi, who has played Amneris once before, has traveled the world as the lead female vocalist with Cirque Dreams and is a graduate of the Hartt School.

Gene Dante plays Radames with passion and a vocal style that (in this show, at least) fittingly resembles Elton John's: full vowels, a slightly laid-back approach—which is not to say imprecise or not powerful—and lots of feeling. Dante recently appeared in The Bacchae (Dionysus) at American Repertory Theater's Oberon Night Club, and other credits include A.R.T.'s The Lily's Revenge and Rocky Horror Show as well as the title role in the New England tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

At the performance I saw, the weakest elements were technical, such as noticeable mic problems. Several times, the actors' mics either didn't turn on at the right time (resulting in some dropped lines) or they were left on for a few moments after an actor went offstage. Gibson's mic popped multiple times after rough movements: once when she fell to her knees, for instance, and again when Dante swept her up in his arms. And, while the choreography is great, the ensemble dancers struggled to stay in sync, although none of them lacked grace.

Aida runs through October 26th, 2014, at the Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester, MA. Presented in collaboration with AIDS Action Committee, 5% of every ticket sold supports AAC's programs. Tickets are $25-$45 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 617-229-6494 or online at fiddleheadtheatre.com. Student, senior, and group discounts are available.



- Sarah Chantal Parro



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