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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida
Karamu House
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule


Courtesy of Karamu House
By any stretch of the imagination, pulling off a production of Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida is a complex undertaking. It is especially true when cast with 26 non-Equity local actors with limited touring and stage experience. What makes this production work and work well is the amount of rehearsal time and attention to detail, especially in regard to vocal harmonies. This is what sells the show.

The musical was originally going to be an animated Disney movie, designed to follow the success of The Lion King, which had been a huge success for the the Elton John and Tim Rice writing team. Instead, it was made into a live stage musical based on the Antonio Ghislanzoni and Giuseppe Verdi opera. This was a sound decision as the musical held 1,800 performances over a four-year Broadway run that started in 2000, winning four Tony Awards that year.

Aida begins in modern times at a museum of Egyptian antiquities with students drifting along, viewing the various displays of artworks. The central piece is a mannequin of Amneris (Sidney Edwards), who suddenly comes to life for the audience by singing "Every Story Is a Love Story." The story then goes back in time to 1500 B.C.

Radames (Darelle Hill), captain of the Egyptian army, has returned from an exploratory probe into the country of Nubia which lies south of Egypt. The Pharaoh (Grant Walker) has decided to expand Egypt's borders by conquering the lands of Nubia and Levant. Radames has brought back some female prisoners, among which is Aida (Mary-Francis R. Miller), the daughter of the king of Nubia, Amonasro (Prophet D. Seay). Radames is unaware of Aida's status, but because of her spirit gives her as a slave to his betrothed Amneris, who finds sees in Aida someone she can relate to, though she is not sure why.

It is soon revealed that Chief Minister of Egypt Zoser (Shakka Hasberry) has been slowly poisoning the Pharaoh in an attempt to get his son Radames on the throne. The plan begins to fall apart when Radames suddenly falls in love with Aida, which puts his announced marriage to Amneris in jeopardy. The plan is further complicated with the capture of Amonasro as Radames joins in the plan with his slave Mereb (Joshua McElroy) to aid in the escape of all four of them.

A very special mention must be made of the exquisite costuming designed by Inda Blatch-Geib in this production. Not only is each complete outfit greatly detailed and reflecting the time period, they are all fully functional for freedom of movement in dance, of which there are a number of occasions. Inda also designed the set, which is simple yet functional. With the limited amount of set pieces, lighting becomes crucial. Colleen Albrecht's lighting design makes careful use of light to emphasize various moods.

The cast is made up of mainly local actors, supplemented by a number of "veterans" of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District All City Arts Program. All of the principals have outstanding solo vocal qualities and the raw power of the ensemble is in perfect harmony, making for a powerful experience in such songs as "The Gods Love Nubia," "Dance of the Robe," and "Like Father, Like Son." The production is expertly choreographed by Treva Offutt, with musical direction by Dr. David M. Thomas sharp direction by Tony F. Sias.

What makes an exciting viewing experience is the sheer power of the vocals that sweep the audience along for an amazing ride back to ancient Egypt. It is a show of love, loss, political intrigue, power, lust and greed—in effect, great entertainment. This is a great show for the entire family.

Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida, through June 16, 2019, at Karamu House, 2355 E. 89th Street, Cleveland OH. For tickets and information visit karamuhouse.org or call 216-795-7077.


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