Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida is Disney's latest venture into musical theater following Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and, in Germany, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. All three shows are currently running and doing quite well at the box office. It looks like Aida will follow in their footsteps.
Despite the fact that it got mostly negative to mixed reviews and failed to get a Tony nomination for best musical or director, Aida appears to be Broadway's next blockbuster. It did win four Tonys: best leading actress in a musical, best sets, best lighting and best score. Many people feel the last award is undeserved and I have mixed feelings about that. Aida's score is arguably the most listenable score produced on Broadway this season, but I found LaChuisa's score for The Wild Party just as enjoyable. While Aida's score is not as rich and varied as LaChuisa's for either The Wild Party or Marie Christine, Aida's will be heard by more people when it tours the US and that might explain why the Tony voters voted the way they did.
Aida is based on the opera of the same name which in turn is based on the legend of a Nubian slave Aida who falls in love with her captor, Ramades, Captain of the Egyptian army. Radames is engaged to the Pharaoh's daughter, Amneris. Since Aida and Radames are in love he cannot marry Amneris. Aida, it turns out, is also a princess and her father is captured by the Egyptian army. To help free him, Aida decides that Radames must marry Amneris so that fewer guards will be posted outside her father's cell and escape will be possible. Aida and Radames are caught helping the Nubian King escape and are sentenced to death. The Pharaoh is near death himself. Amneris pleads with him to pass sentence on Ramades and Aida; she suggests that they be buried in the same tomb.
If pop-rock music is not your cup of tea you may not like this show, or the CD, very much. When I saw Aida I happened to enjoy it very much. It tells its story very well and I was involved with the story as it unfolded. I really cared what happened to these characters and that is very important in a musical.
Elton John and Tim Rice have fashioned a very enjoyable pop-rock score (not a rock opera), the first of its kind to really work within the context of the show. There are a few odd numbers (mostly those given to Radames's father Zoser, and "My Strongest Suit" sung by Amneris), but the remaining songs give you insight as to how the characters feel. Egyptians didn't sing pop-rock music but, if you see the show, Egypt didn't look like this either. Aida should really be billed as a rock musical, which might change people's expectations should they anticipate a more realistic approach to the story. There is MTV-style choreography and lighting to accompany the big dance numbers.
I found the love ballads - trios and duets - to be the most enjoyable: "Not Me," "A Step Too Far," "Elaborate Lives," and "Written in the Stars." "How I Know You" for Mereb, the Nubian slave who first recognizes Aida, is also a terrific number and one of the few that aren't sung by any of the three leads. The best numbers from the score are clearly Aida's second act solo, "Easy as Life" (even though it seems to have stolen a few riffs from Frank Wildhorn's The Scarlet Pimpernel) and "I Know the Truth," Amneris' realization that she has been fooled all along.
Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, and Sherie Rene Scott are cast as Aida, Ramades and Amneris, respectively. They carry most of the show and are the main reason to buy this CD. I first admired Miss Headley when she made her Broadway debut in The Lion King over two years ago and I am thrilled to see that she finally has the chance to have a lead in a musical. Same goes for Adam Pascal. I was very impressed with his talent when he debuted in Rent over four years ago and I am glad he has found another role that suits his talents. I had not heard of Sherie Rene Scott before she was cast in this show; I now see what all the buzz was about. She couldn't be more perfect. All three possess strong pop voices and can sing musical theater just as easily, which is not an easy task.
Aida's cast album is well produced and captures the entire score with the exception of the overture that opens the show. It contains very little dialogue except where the dialogue falls within a song. I don't understand why the overture was omitted since there is plenty of room on the disc to include it. This cast recording easily supersedes the previous all-star recording released last year.
Those of you who can't get enough of Aida's three leads will be happy to know that all three have or will soon be releasing solo discs. Heather Headley's solo disc by Hollywood Records will be released later this year. Sherie Scott's and Adam Pascal's CDs are being sold on the internet only through Sh-K-Boom records. It is Sh-K-Boom's goal to bridge the gap between Broadway and rock 'n' roll and I, for one, am glad that someone is doing it.
Sherie Rene Scott's (or should I say Sherie Rene, as she is billed on the CD) first solo disc is titled "Men I've Had," a very interesting compilation of tunes by six of the men whose shows she has appeared in - Pete Townshend (Tommy), Elton John (Aida), Randy Newman (Faust), Jonathan Larson (Rent) plus John Kander and Fred Ebb (Over and Over). While this record will appeal to fans who like rock 'n' roll, musical theater fans will want this disc for the Kander and Ebb tune from Over and Over, "This Life." Sherie gets to show off more of her range here and her fans will be pleased. She has a voice that is strong and shifts effortlessly between subtle and dramatic pieces. Some will be disappointed that this disc doesn't feature songs from her previous roles, but I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Adam Pascal seems to be stuck between the worlds of Broadway and rock 'n' roll. His original goal was to be a rock singer but he hit a detour when someone suggested that he audition for Rent. He was critically praised for his performance, receiving a Tony nomination for the role. Since then he has had trouble breaking into rock music - “he's too Broadway” - while theater producers find him “too rock.” Thankfully he found the role in Aida and a record deal with Sh-K-Boom.
Not so surprisingly, his debut CD, "Model Prisoner," features rock 'n' roll tunes that he wrote between Rent and Aida. Most of the lyrics are somber in tone, but the melodies are fairly catchy. "Liken a Razor," "Just Here to the Left of You," "Model Prisoner," and "The One That Got Away" stand out in my mind as the best tunes on the disc. Adam Pascal fans should be very pleased.