Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Aida" at Constellation Theatre

The Elton John and Tim Rice version of "Aida" hit Broadway at a time when my access to Broadway was entirely through cast albums.  I knew a small local version was going to have challenges living up to the spectacle in my brain, even before you get to the amazing original cast.  
This show fits neatly alongside some of Rice's work with Andrew Lloyd Weber like "Joseph and the Amazing Techinicolor Dreamcoat" in that it speeds through give the cast and the audience little time to transition through Aida's capture, becoming a slave in Egypt, Radames' attraction to her a random slave (or so he thinks), his gift of her to his betrothed Amneris, Mereb and other enslaved Nubians recognizing Aida as their princess, her decision that her love for Radames cannot outweigh her duty to her country, and the two of them being captured and sentenced to death together. (Spoiler alert.)  
The Constellation cast showed lots of glitter and glam, there were lots of triangles in the set, and they made use of the small stage.  Amneris is such a tough role, she starts off sweet, and ballady, and then moves quickly to a more rock style all in the very first song.  There were some characters in the show who slipped into  almost British accents in parts.  (And yes, I am aware that "Aida" exists in a non-specific time, possibly after British colonization of Africa.)  Radames went for more of a croony style than the edgey rocker style. Zoser was delightfully evil.  Mereb was funny in all the right ways.  And of course, a show where the title character is singing in about half the songs, is going to ride or die on Aida, and she was wonderful.  "The Gods Love Nubia" made me a little misty.  
Yes, a show where the central love story involves a character that has enslaved another is tricky at best, but this show does not ignore that.  In fact, when Aida tries to tell her dad that Radames is one of the good Egyptians, her dad asks if he had somehow not participated in the fighting and capturing of Nubians.  (This led one audience member to mutter, "Mm-hmm, this is what I am saying.")  
The smaller staging did mean some things, like the fact Radames helps Aida's dad escape by freeing the boat (which is also why Aida is unable to escape with him) and the original version's idea that the lovers meet again in a future life are left a little unclear. 
Overall, I think it can still be great fun to see a beloved (to me at least) production actually staged, so enjoyed this chance.