Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Aida - Review

Last weekend Lynette and I hopped over to Viewmont High to watch their production of Aida. We'd actually seen Aida before and enjoyed it so this was a fun opportunity to see it again. We knew one of the girls in the chorus, so that was fun as well.

For those unfamiliar, Aida is a story set in ancient Egypt during wars between Egypt and its neighbor Nubia. The Egyptian captain (Radames) captures a group of Nubian women and takes them back to Egypt as slaves. One of the women is Aida. From first encounter, he admires her strength and tenacity and is moved to show some compassion and have the women sent to be palace slaves rather than the mines. Radames is betrothed to Pharaoh's daughter Amneris through the devious plotting of Radames' father, Zoser. Radames' father is also slowly poisoning Pharaoh with the hope/plan that his son will gain the throne. As the story progresses, Radames falls in love with Aida and she falls in love with him. It also comes out that she is actually the princess of Nubia. Naturally there's lots of difficulties with their romance and there are also plenty of political machinations going on.

The story is apparently an ancient Egyptian legend which may or may not be true. It was set to music a century or two ago by Verdi as an opera. A decade or so ago, Tim Rice and Elton John updated it for Broadway.

Viewmont's production was very good.

Their sets & costumes were amazing as usual (they always surpass my vision of what a "high school" play would be). The lobby featured papyrus, statues and other Egyptian artifacts including a full sized sarcaphogus (I'd love to know where it came from). The stage was surrounded with a pyramid on each side over and behind which actors wandered. The theatre fly system brought in gorgeous backdrops of the Nile as well as wonderful palace scenes and even another full sized pyramid.

The music was great although I was a little bummed that the orchestra didn't feature "electric" instrumentation. The songs with Zoser often include electric guitars in the broadway version...without them, Another Pyramid and Like Father, Like Son lost some of their intensity. Otherwise, I felt the orchestra was fabulous (though Lynette did ask me, again, why the choir director was the one leading the orchestra...I gave her a brief explanation of Mrs. M and left it at that).

The actors did a fabulous job. I personally felt that Amneris (the second female lead) had a much stronger performance than Aida (actually, I think Amneris was the most powerful performance in the show) and would have rather seen her with the title role.

I always have my suspicions as to how some of the major roles are cast. Sad though it is, there are always plenty of politics involved in the casting...often to the detriment of true talent. *stepping down off soap box*...sorry

Don't get me wrong, I felt that both Aida and Radames did a great job.

Aida did a great job, although I did feel that her second half of the show was much better than her first half. I wonder if she got a little "halftime" pep talk about putting more emotion/depth into her role. She was passionate and well poised as a captured princess.

Radames did well...because of the nature of his character, I had a hard time distinguishing whether it was the character or the actor that was being smug and cocky. At times, it felt like he was being a little too haughty in his role and I wonder if the actor was trying to show off his prowess or if he was getting caught up in the role of the self-righteous captain. Either way, it worked out, but was slightly distracting a time or two.

Stepping away from the primary romantic leads, Zoser is probably the other most intriguing character. As Radames says "evil's a distinctive smell" and Zoser definitely imbued his vile character very well. He had a shortly trimmed beard (whether real or glued on, I don't know, but it looked good) and was able to carry a sneer on his voice that just made him feel slimy. His motions were smooth and fluid. I would have liked to have heard a little more sincere anger in his voice at times, but his general calm, unflappable nature was fairly creepy.

Two of the featured slaves, Nehebka and Mereb were great. Nehebka didn't have many speaking/singing opportunities, but she did great with the Egyptian dances. Mereb played an integral part in the negotiations between characters. His character was well portrayed and came across as sincere and lovable.

The Pharaoh and Aida's father were the other two primary roles. Pharaoh did pretty well at being aloof and regal. His part didn't give him much opportunity for anything else. Aida's father was a bit too over the top for me in the jail scene later in the play. He went from calm and resigned to explosively angry in less than a heartbeat and (in my opinion) without sufficient information. Part of the problem there could be due to the script itself (he blows up at Aida for her romance with Radames, but her previous line doesn't truly give enough indication that there is a really romantic relationship going on). It could be script related since I know sometimes high schools get the "school script", so perhaps that aided in it. Still, it felt he blew up too much too quickly, even with better lead in.

Overall, I felt this was an excellent performance. It plays through Saturday the 14th, so if you're in the Bountiful area, stop on by.

4 stars

(out of 5)

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