Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida
It's a miracle that this show - a 2000 adaptation of the same tale of forbidden love between an Egyptian soldier and a captive Nubian princess as Verdi's opera staple – opened in Atlanta as Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida, and was pretty well dismissed as a failure. A massive salvage job took place and paid off big time for the folks at Disney who produced it, as their first "adult" musical on Broadway. But don't let the fact that it won the Tony for Best Original Score fool you. The competition that season was fairly weak and the John/Rice names and Disney PR budget were enough to garner the award for it. Aida is no Tommy or Evita though you'll hear echoes of both, as well as of John's pop songs in the score.
Still, with directors Steve Tomkins and Brian Yorkey at the helm, the two-and-a-half hour show sails along painlessly. Tomkins' choreography is a wonderful opportunity for the veteran choreographer to work outside his comfort zone of razzmatazz old style Broadway hoofing; in particular, the dance sequences featuring the Nubian ensemble are enough to raise the rafters and then some. But for this show to really work, a trio of young, talented actor/singers is the main prerequisite - and Village has found them. Marliss Amiea as Aida is a diminutive, radiant presence, regal and haughty enough, but ultimately a sympathetic princess torn from her homeland and unable to stop the hands of fate from wresting her from her true love. It is a credit to Amiea that she isn't overshadowed by the wondrous vocals and textured acting of Ryah Nixon as the Princess Amneris. With a big, soulful voice that could win her work on Broadway and beyond (Elphaba in Wicked seems a sure follow-up role) Nixon evolves beyond her early airhead kewpie doll scenes into mature and conflicted womanhood, baffled by her ignorance of the Aida/Radames romance that was going on behind her back. She also lucks into the best songs the John/Rice score has to offer: the mood-setting opener "every Story is a Love Story"; "My Strongest Suit," a dizzy fashion show sequence, and the only truly comic number in the show; and the strong ballad of betrayal realized, "I Know the Truth." As Radames, Michael Murnoch plays well opposite both ladies, and he and Amiea make something special out of their love duet "Written in the Stars." Trent Saunders as Aida's countryman (and ignored suitor) Mereb brings warmth and compassion, and some not unwelcome humor to his role.
Tim Symons' musical direction is impressive and well balanced, and his musicians deliver the goods in spades. Carey Wong's scenic design is easily among the most impressive to ever grace the Village stage, with one dazzling stylized Egyptian vista after another, and Tom Sturges eye-popping lighting design uses up to the minute stage lighting wizardry to its fullest. Karen Ledger's costumes are a Technicolor dream to behold, and the costuming for "My Strongest Suit" is a marvel of comic excess.
Village ends what surely has to have been one of their most profitable seasons ever with this show. You may not go out humming the score to Aida, but its spectacle, staging and performances will linger in the memory.
Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida runs through June 6 at The Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah. The show also plays July 11-27 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett. For more information, visit www.villagetheatre.org.