The only emotion an intelligent and theatrically savvy adult is likely to feel watching Hyperion Theatricals' (read Disney's) Aida, which opened last night at the Palace theatre, is one of bitter regret; it could have been, by all rights should have been a magnificent Broadway musical.
Unfortunately, the Aida on offer struggles, mostly without success, to reach the emotional depth and quality of a cheap, mindless Saturday morning cartoon. To quote the now legendary qualifier, "not since Carrie" has a musical this bland, superficial, unengaging, tuneless and just plain bad managed to actually open on Broadway.
To be fair, there are a few things that make the evening almost tolerable. Though Heather Headley (Aida) appears to have forgotten how to act, and Adam Pascal (Radames) seems to have never learned, both possess intoxicatingly impressive voices which imbue Elton John's insipid music and Tim Rice's simple-minded lyrics with a false significance and weight. Sherie Rene Scott (Amneris) - who can both act convincingly and sing up a storm - is thoroughly delightful as the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a Jewish American Princess. And, most of Bob Crowley's scenery and some of his costumes are elegant and witty, as is all of the lighting design of Natasha Katz.
Though Elton John and Tim Rice have provided a score without merit, at least the songs are easily forgotten as soon as you leave the theatre. This cannot be said of the book, attributed to Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang. Not only have they butchered the story and plot of the opera on which this musical is more or less based, they have managed to trivialize and diminish it almost beyond recognition.
To say that Wayne Cilento's choreography is dull, derivative and uninspired is to praise it too highly. To state that Robert Falls has actually directed this mess, bringing together the various elements into one cogent and lucid whole, would be an act of libel.
Since it seems to be targeted at the same audience of adolescent girls and unwary tourists which has kept Footloose open far beyond its expiration date, Aida will probably have quite a healthy run. But, just because it's Disney, it's open, and tickets are selling briskly is no reason to waste your time with it.
Aida Music by Elton John. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton and Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang. Directed by Robert Falls. Choreography by Wayne Cilento. Scenic and costume design by Bob Crowley. Lighting by Natasha Katz. Sound design by Steve C. Kennedy. Starring Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, Sherie Rene Scott, John Hickok, Damian Perkins, Tyrees Allen, Daniel Oreskes.
Theatre: Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: $25 - $80
Tickets online: Ticketmaster
Tickets by phone: Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4747