Review: Aida (Drury Lane Theatre)

  
  

A solid production of flawed Elton John/Tim Rice musical

  
  

Jared Zirilli and Stephanie Umoh star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo by Brett Beiner.

  
Drury Lane Theatre presents
   
Aida
  
Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, with R. Falls and D. H. Hwang
Directed and Choreographed by Jim Corti
at Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $35-$46  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

When Egyptian captain Radames (Jared Zirilli) captures the beautiful Nubian princess Aida (Stephanie Umoh), the two fall in love despite the war between their countries, and are forced to choose between their political duties and their affections for each other. Elton John and Tim Rice adapt Verdi’s classic opera Aida through the lens of a late ‘90s Disney animated feature, candy-coating the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers with family-friendly pop-rock that occasionally detracts from the emotional life of the story. Yet despite the musical’s problems, Jim Corti directs a sharp production with a cast of strong singers and dancers that perform the material cleanly, but could use some more passion. Using the influence of ancient Egyptian art, Corti creates images on stage through the actors posing and positioning in profile, like this painting:

actient Egyptian wall painting

While it’s a nice effect, it’s also representative of the production’s largest problem: stiffness that prevents the beauty of the music from truly taking off. The actors perform the music with precision, but there are times when it feels like they’re holding back, which could partly be because of the imbalanced musical material.

The ballads have a similar emotional resonance as John/Rice’s Lion King work, but whereas that musical has a unifying musical sound, Aida’s score essentially becomes a musical journey through the different stages of Elton John’s musical career. Tim Rice pushes the plot with his lyrics, but there are times when John’s score seems mismatched with the action on stage, mostly during the first act. The show’s fist number is sung by Amneris (Erin Mosher), the daughter of the Pharoah AIDA--Grant Thomas, Monique Haley, Stephanie Umoh, Jared Zirilli(Nicholas Foster) and Radames’ arranged bride, and Mosher’s powerful voice is pitch-perfect, with her dignified presence befitting the character’s initial introduction as the story’s narrator. Then the show transitions into the Rent-lite “Fortune Favors The Brave” as Ramades belts over inspirational power chords while Nubian women are pillaged in the background. It’s great music for a lease-burning, but not so much for an act of war. It gets worse when Radames’ father Zoser (Darren Matthias) reveals his plot to usurp the Pharoah’s throne in “Another Pyramid,” a groan-inducing reggae meets Tumbleweed Connection number that turns into a goofy dance fight. Thankfully, that’s the worst number in the show and happens early, but it’s also not the best way to start a musical.

As the musical progresses, it becomes clear that Elton John’s music shows the differences between Egypt in Nubia through the styling of their songs. Egyptians have the classic rock ‘n roll of John’s early years, while the Nubians utilize the gospel-tribal fusion of The Lion King, but there’s still a strong disconnect between numbers. “My Strongest Suit,” where Amneris does her best Tina Turner impression, and “The Gods Love Nubia,” a stirring tribute by a downtrodden Nubian people – they don’t sound like they belong in the same show. This is mostly a problem in the first act, and as the two groups begin to combine in act two, the music gains a stronger focus.

     
Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. L to R-- Jarrett Kelly, Grant Thomas, Branden Springman, Jaquez Sims, Peter Vandivier, Michael Glazer, Todd Rhoades, and Stephane Duret star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA, at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
Jarrett Kelly, Peter Vandivier, Brandon Springman, Darren Matthias, Michael Glazer and Todd Rhoades in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Erin Mosher in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

The two female leads both showcase stunning vocals, but while their singing is wonderfully expressive, they suffer from that aforementioned stiffness, particularly Umoh in the title role. Aida is a free spirit that has always felt confined, and she is given the opportunity to escape through song, yet Umoh is locked in place when she sings. She relies on her voice to do the heavy lifting, and despite being a powerful instrument, the image she portrays physically doesn’t match up. This prevents the chemistry between Ramades and Aida from really exploding, as Zarilli is forced to give more without ever getting much in return. The cast proves that they’re skilled performers, but there’s a lack of freedom in their technique that translates as restraint, a dangerous flaw for a show like Aida that relies on spectacle.

Despite the production’s flaws, fans of Aida will find much to love about Drury Lane’s production. The music is well performed, with crisp staging and choreography from Corti, who incorporates tribal dance into the standard Broadway footwork. Like a lost Disney cartoon put on stage, Aida lacks the gravitas of the original opera, but the crowd-pleasing score turns the tragic story into a family-friendly rock musical sure to please fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
'Aida' group in white in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Stephanie Umoh and Jared Zirilli star in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.
James Earl Jones II stars in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner. Monique Haley, Erin Mosher and Natalie Williams in a scene from Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical AIDA at Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace. Photo credit: Brett Beiner.

All photos by Brett Beiner

     
     

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REVIEW: Aida (Bailiwick Chicago)

Love conquers all, even in ancient Egypt

 

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Bailiwick Chicago presents
    
Aida
  
Book by L. Woolverton, Robert Falls and D.H. Hwang
Music by
Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by
Scott Ferguson
Music Directed by
Jimmy Morehead/Robert Ollis
at
American Theatre Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through August 1st  |  Tickets:  $30-$45  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Egypt attacks Nubia. Women are abducted. The lead captor and enslaved princess-in-disguise share a passionate connection. Not your ordinary boy-meets-girl scenario, this musical establishes its premise from the first song, “Every Story is a Love Story.” Bailiwick Chicago presents Aida, the Tony Award winning Elton John and Tim Rice musical based on Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian opera of the same name. The 3859 Pharaoh’s daughter has been betrothed for nine years. To avoid settling down, her fiancé, Radames, has been pilfering villages along the Nile River. Everything changes when Radames imprisons Aida from Nubia. A plot to kill the Pharaoh, an uprising of Nubian slaves, the plan for a royal wedding – despite this political duress, an epic love story conquers all. An elaborate production set on a small stage, Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida triumphs simply with song, dance and a legendary love story.

In the title role, Rashada Dawan (Aida) is a regal force that commands the stage. Her physical presence is one of stately elegance. Her singing voice is a powerful authority beckoning adoration. The chemistry between Dawan and Brandon Chandler (Radames) is romantic captivation. Their duet “Elaborate Lives” elicits a combination of shivers and mistiness from any optimistic cynic in matters of the heart. Chandler’s vulnerability and Dawan’s strength are an irresistible coupling for an operatic love story. Bringing the humor to countries at war, Adrianna Parson (Amneris) plays the spoiled princess with a fashion obsession. Her ‘I am what I wear. Dress has always been my strongest suit’ attitude is flashy moxie. The contrasting styles, in dress and personality from Dawan, make Parson a standout in a supporting role. Another secondary character hitting the comedic notes is Aaron Holland (Mereb) as an enterprising slave.

 

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With a cast of twenty on a smaller stage, some of the scenes and transitions seem clunky. It’s trying to do too much with too many. At other moments, like “God Loves Nubia”, the magnitude of the numbers add to the impressive visual and audio spectacle. The large cast also adds to some costume speed bumps. Costume Designer Rick Lurie and a group of fashion designers have gone all out with the ladies for some multiple, extravagant wardrobe changes. Splurging on intricate details for the female cast, it seems the money ran out for the men. The guys are wearing their own personal cargo pants or shorts with distracting striped cummerbunds. And it’s not the slaves that are poorly dressed, it’s the wealthy Egyptians. Despite the big cast and small space, Gary Abbott and Kevin Iega Jeff have choreographed extraordinary dance routines. Whether dancers are rowing the boat, plotting a murder or modeling the latest fashions, the movement is original, tribal and athletic.

Elton John and Tim Rice have created a memorable and poignant score for the blockbuster musical Aida. This Bailiwick Chicago production is a voluptuous woman squeezed into a size eight. She could benefit from a little more room or trimming down but she’s still beautiful!

    
    
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

       
Photo-AidaRadames2 3773 PhotoArt-Aida

 

 

Three Four Words: Fanning himself with Egyptian style, Scott-dds describes the show as “powerful, memorable, extremely entertaining.”

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REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast (Broadway in Chicago)

A fractured fairytale

 

Liz Shivener - captioned

 

 
Broadway in Chicago presents:
 
Beauty and the Beast
 
book by Linda Woolverton
music/lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
directed by Rob Roth
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through April 4th (more info | tickets)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Disney’s musical Beauty and the Beast may be a tale as old as time, but time has definitely taken its toll.

The current touring production, which is making a brief stop at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, comes across as, well, amateurish. Riddled with technical problems, it appears Disney isn’t even trying to spice up its usual schlock before serving it up to eager audiences.

Liz Shivener and Justin Glaser The musical follows closely to the animated feature’s plot. Belle (Liz Shivener) is the most beautiful girl in the village. Not so bad, right? The problem is she’s an oddball because she has an active imagination and enjoys getting lost in a good book. It doesn’t help that her father Maurice (Christopher Spencer) is an eccentric inventor.

The dashing yet brutish and egocentric Gaston (Nathaniel Hackman) has a thing for the lovely Belle. The only problem is that his extreme hubris is a huge turnoff to the lass, which only fuels the fire in Gaston’s heart even more.

One day, father/inventor Maurice ventures out into the woods where he is attacked by wolves (made possible through some fairly frightening puppetry, so frightening in fact that it terrified the little girl sitting in front of me to the point that she and her mother had to leave the theater). The old man seeks shelter in a castle, which unbeknownst to him is inhabited by a bunch of talking appliances and a Beast (Justin Glaser).

We all know where the story goes from here. The Beast makes a trade—Maurice for Belle. Slowly but surely the two opposites attract and lo and behold the magic spell that has been cast over the kingdom is finally lifted.

The only significant plot difference in the musical is that more attention is paid to the castle’s ensemble, which includes Cogsworth the clock (Keith Kirkwood), Lumiere the candelabra (Merritt David Janes) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Sabina Petra, whose British accent is all over the U.K. map). In this version, the servants are slowly transforming into these objects, upping the stakes for the Beast to break the spell sooner rather than later.

Throughout the entire show, from the beginning to the end, there were issues with performers’ microphones. Cracks and pops would occasionally drown out dialogue or interrupt a melody. Normally I wouldn’t put so much weight on a technical issue like this, but it was never resolved throughout the two-hour musical. In addition, whereas most audiences might not notice if a microphone is temporarily tuned down too low, people sitting around me began to moan and groan with the more rustling and crackling we had to endure.

There was also a faulty light cue (Spoiler alert for anyone not familiar with the story.) The musical handles Gaston’s death in the most G-rated manner possible. It only alludes to him falling by showing him teetering over the ledge of a balcony. My assumption is that the lights are supposed to go down at the moment right before we see him fall. When I saw it, Gaston regained his footing, stared blankly out at the audience and then the lights went down.

Liz Shivener and Justin Glaser 2 Merritt David Janes - captioned

The actors were all decent, but there were no showstoppers. However, there were some impressive acrobatics, especially from Michael Fatica, who played Gaston’s right-hand man Lefou.

For a musical, there seemed to be a dearth of big numbers throughout the first part of the show. You would think that the opener “Bonjour” would be high energy, but, despite involving the whole cast, it seemed much less lively than the cartoon. The standout song was by far “Be Our Guest,” which was truly a spectacle, complete with dancing plates and forks and a tumbling rug. One of the other big numbers, “Gaston” was a miscalculated headache thanks to the incorporation of clinking metal steins into the choreography.

Small children who are fans of the cartoon will probably enjoy the show, granted they aren’t scared of some of the darker scenes, including the stabbing of the Beast. It may instead be the adults who are squirming in their seats, wishing they had just rented the cartoon instead.

 
Rating: ★★
 

Nathaniel Hackmann - captioned