Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Aida......Every Story is on stage at the Drury Lane

As the song says “Every Story is a Love Story” and in “Aida” every story that should and shouldn’t be told is laid out on stage for two hours and we are treated to each of them. We’ve got the spoiled princess that gains strength and confidence without sacrificing fashion sense story, the doomed lovers that relate to slavery story, the buffed guards from a soft core porn story, and that’s just for starters.

Don’t get me wrong when “Aida” works it can be a moving show in your standard Disney Mode coupled with some attractive memorable melodies. In fact I’d argue its Elton John’s best score composed for the theater and contains electric rhythms and melodies that can hit their musical targets powerfully along with also easily missing them when they should have a stronger impact. This is a show where the score lands strong yet the book is muddled and needs complete devotion from its cast to work.

In two previous productions I saw of this show both the pre-Broadway production and a Bailiwick the cast played this show as their life depended on it which it probably did. Unfortunately this does not happen from the Drury Lane Oakbrook cast which left this production as an outline for what the show should and could be.

The show starts out eschewing the clever design of having the modern day version of the lovers meet up at a museum in front of a stature of the Egyptian Princess Amneris who proceeds to come to life to belt though the opening. Instead the lovers meet up in front of a rather boring ancient triangle of glass, where as then Amneris comes out as your typical Vegas entertainer at a moderately priced hotel to sing her first song. As Amneris Erin Mosher has legs for days and resembles looks wise Celion Dion but that's about where it ends as she carries herself off as a runner up to Miss America and unfortunately also acts and sings like a runner up to Miss America. She lacks the star quality in both the acting and voice that the role requires and is hard to believe in her second act transformation from spoiled Princess to future ruler of a country.

As the lovers and what completes the other half of the shows stunning love triangle are Jared Zirilli who has both abs and hair for days but also posseses a voice that’s above decent and a manner about him that doesn’t come across as heroic or anything else but chorus boy thrown into the leading role for a performance. In the title role of Aida Stephanie Umoh brings gorgeous looks, an attractive and pleasant voice that sadly neither in acting or voice contain the strength or distinction that the role requires of. She also lacks the inner strength that motivates this conflicted woman to live at no matter what cost and plays the role with no fire or strength.

In the featured supporting roles of friend and confident Mereb and as Radames evil father both James Earl Jones III and Darren Matthias get by in both the acting and singing departments but do little to leave a lasting impression or score on a particular emotional side.

The costumes and set for this production are simple and effective with a touch of Vegas thrown in, "I'm looking at you Amneris". In the dual role of Director and Choregrapher Jim Corti adds some beautiful movement to the piece but over all the choreography seems to have more traits from an MTV music video then in other productions and I thought the directing was thrown to the side and not interesting enough with some moments being over the top. This was the first time I noticed the guards raping the prisoners at the beginning of the piece and as realistic as that was it does take you out of the moment of the show. His other problem seems to be that he has taken the male ensemble of priests and re-imagined them as something out of the film version of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The music direction is superb and some of the choral work outstanding however the show also misses its mark in one of the shows best numbers “The Gods Love Nubia,” with the chorus being tacked on just for additional voices but losing a lot in both emotional and vocal power.

After seeing so many wonderful productions at Drury Lane I think this was just simply a case of being a misfire and look forward to their next show as this one seems to have already been forgotten.

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