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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Rockin' Aida Comes To San Jose

Also see Richard's review of Phantom of the Opera

The blockbuster musical from Disney Theatrical Productions, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, comes roaring into the San Jose Performing Arts Center for a limited three week stay. This marks the start of the 2003-2004 American Musical Theatre of San Jose season. This time, the pop opera has three top flight singers and actors as the main characters of the timeless story of ill fated lovers. West End star Paulette Ivory plays Aida, Jeremy Kushnier is Radames and Goodspeed Opera House star Lisa Brescia is Amneris.

I confess that in my earlier review of this spectacle (see achives), I was not fond of the music or lyrics in this show. We first saw the original at the Palace Theatre in New York with Heather Headley, Adam Pascal and Sherie Rene Scott, and the only plus side I could find was the singing of Ms. Headley and Ms. Scott. Even Wayne Cilento’s choreography was a mess.

When the first National touring company came to the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco with Patrick Cassidy, Simone and Kelli Fournier, I liked it much better. The three had a better handle on the main characters and the music started to grow on me. I also appreciated the sets and lighting better. This current touring production is on the par with the first National production and you cannot ask for better singers, dancers and actors. It’s a rockin' musical that is pleasing to the eye and ear.

Disney’s Aida is a far cry from Verdi’s 1871 opera, which is one of my favorite operas. The writers of the book, Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, borrowed the story of the love triangle of Egyptian captain Radames, Princess Amneris and the slave Aida with whom Radames falls in love. This version focuses more closely on Radames and Aida. The writers added pop culture to the script, some new subplots and even a happy ending. The sets and scenes are still striking as only the Disney people can accomplish, reflecting the pop culture of today rather than the old fashioned sets of Verdi’s opera. The lighting by Natasha Katz and costumes by Bob Crowley convey an array of emotions with a strong understanding of what is happening on stage. The lighting of brilliant hot desert colors like orange, yellow and red is a delight to the eye. At one point, there are 18 spotlights of wonderful jewel-like colors bathing Aida in a rainbow of light as she sings “Easy as Life.” The choreography is much neater now and the masculine dancers look like they would be soldiers.

British born Paulette Ivory (original Nala in London’s production of The Lion King and Brenda in Smokey Joe’s Café) as Aida puts across the perplexity of a young woman in love and the growing fearlessness of her character. Whether singing or speaking, her voice is radiant. She has an enticing deep vibrato when singing. Her gospel style rendition of “The Gods Love Nubia” is a heartfelt expression of the oppression of the slaves by the Egyptians. Ms. Ivory is on a par with the past two Aidas I have seen.

Aida
Lisa Brescia as Amneris
Jeremy Kushnier as Radames (originated the role of Ren in Footloose and was Roger in the National Touring Company of Rent) belts out his numbers like a rock star. His change from being a self absorbed character to a loving and feeling person by play's end is done very well. Lisa Brescia as Amneris is wonderful, and she gives the show one of the few authentic flashes of humanity. She moves easily from being a dumb blonde voice in the first act to a surprising maturity in act two. She brings down the house in the big fashion number in the first act, “My Strongest Suit,” with dazzling fashion models right out of the Ziegfeld Follies. Brescia is also outstanding in her rendition of “I Know the Truth” toward the end of the second act.

Mickey Dolenz (of Monkees fame) is good as the conniving Zoser. He has a wonderful speaking voice and his singing voice is powerful. Ta’rea Campbell creates good, light comedy relief as the guileless Nehebka. Peter Kapetan is an imposing Pharaoh.

The orchestra, under the direction of Steven Cosmos Mallardi, was loud at the beginning and there was a problem hearing some of the lyrics. Also, the sound system was very shrill during the opening songs. That cleared up as the musical continued. Well I must say that things are rocking on the Nile, and Aida continues to grow on me.

Aida runs through August 9th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd. San Jose. Tickets are available by calling 888-455-SHOW or online at www.amtsj.org.

AMT's next production will be Funny Girl, set to open on September 12.


Photo ©Disney. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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