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: Spamalot (Drury Lane)

  
  

Drury Lane’s ‘Spamalot’ is a merry night of dancing and singing!

  
  

SPAMALOT--James Earl Jones II, Grant Thomas, Gary Carlson, Matthew Crowle, Brandon Springman and Richard Strimer

   
Drury Lane Theatre presents
  
Spamalot
   
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez
Directed by William Osetek
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oak Brook (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Monty Python began as a British comedy group that created the television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ensemble members included Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The success of the show led to feature films including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which is loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. With its witty and sometimes absurdist humor, Monty Python became a cultural phenomenon and “Holy Grail” was the basis for the musical Spamalot.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo and David KortemeierThe set for Spamalot at Drury Lane Theatre resembles a traditional castle, with a castle gate center stage flanked by large wooden castle doors on other side, surrounded by stone bricks and gated windows. As the show progresses, scene changes are seamless and quick, never disrupting the momentum or action of the show.

Spamalot opens with an historian (Jackson Evans) explaining the history of Britain. He’s initially both relatable and charming, instantly pulling the audience into the action. The story the historian relates then comes to life as King Arthur (David Kortemeier) enters. Arthur is searching for knights for his round table and is traveling throughout England in search of them. He puts together what seems like somewhat of a motley crew consisting of Sir Lancelot (John Sanders), Sir Robin (Adam Pelty), Sir Galahad (Sean Allan Krill) and Sir Bedevere (Bradley Mott).

All of the actors are fully charismatic and bring a ton of characterization to their parts: Robin (Pelty) is sweet and funny with his fear of actual fighting. Galahad (Krill) is charming but not irritating with his pretty boy looks and demeanor. Lancelot (Sanders) is entertaining with his tough boy act to hide his hidden interests and Bedevere (Mott) works well to round out to the cast.

Not only is the acting stellar, but the singing is strong and clear and the music is just fun. Each actor’s range is suited to their character, allowing their singing talents to really shine. This is especially the case with The Lady of the Lake (Gina Milo). Milo’s voice is stunning and powerful, and her ability to hit so many runs in the music is SPAMALOT--John Sanders and Jackson Evanscaptivating. The only minor complaint is that, on occasion, vibratos in the cast are a bit too heavy.

As a show with a triple threat, the dancing is also well choreographed and shows of the dancing talents of the cast. Minus a few missed landings and mishaps, the dancing is quite spectacular, especially Patsy’s tap number (Matthew Crowle) during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s clear that Crowle has a talent for it and he shows it off spectacularly.

Once the crew is assembled, they are given a task directly from God: find the Holy Grail. With this task at hand, the group, led by Arthur, goes in search of the Grail. Encountering various other knights and obstacles, the action flows quickly with a lively energy, pulling our attention towards the stage. The actors play up the comedy, doing well with the laugh lines and the hilarity of the writing.

Spamalot is a fun-filled, hilarious show that fits for anyone who loves Monty Python and the tale of the Holy Grail. Highly recommended!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Spamalot plays at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, IL, through March 6. Tickets are $31 to $45 with lunch/dinner packages ranging from $45.75 to $68. Student and senior prices available. Ticket can be purchased through the box office by calling 630-530-0111.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo, now at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook

        
        

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Holiday Sing-Along with Porchlight Music Theatre

Celebrate the Holidays through a rousing sing-a-long with Porchlight actors, singing their favorite holiday tunes!!

Porchlight Holiday Sing-Along