SANDY — Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida opened on Friday at the Sandy Amphitheatre under the direction of Trevor Jerome. It is a pleasing production, but it is missing the spark that would make it an impressive one.
The Sandy Amphitheatre is a beautiful venue for musical theatre, especially for a play like Aida with its many references to nature. (Unfortunately, nature threatened the production on Friday when rain fell steadily during the opening numbers. The faithful audience huddled under umbrellas until the storm passed, leaving a beautiful cool evening.) The outdoor space also contributes to the epic quality of the play’s story, about an Egyptian warrior that falls fatally in love with the enemy’s princess while she is enslaved in Egypt. A contemporary adaptation of Verdi and Ghislanzoni’s 1891 opera, Aida could be considered a pop-rock musical with Elton John’s signature style evident in many of the numbers.
On the whole, the actors were up to the musical challenge of some of the more difficult songs. Robin Auva’a shined as Aida: her voice was powerful with intention behind it, and her commitment to her character was strong. Trent English was striking as Radames, expertly exhibiting the internal struggle of his character. Britani Cavaness gave Amneris both humor and depth (her solo “I know the truth” was especially good), and Craig Clifford as Zoser and Kyle Khou (who you may recognize as an American Idol hopeful) as Mereb were notable in their respective supporting roles.
They are all talented artists, however it seemed that they lacked the direction that would have taken their performances to the next level. Specifically, there were too many moments in the play that lacked movement, and these relatively static scenes inhibited the transfer of energy between the actors on stage and between the actors and audience. The choreography by Stephanie Maag also played a role in the static nature of the production. There were some numbers that seemed more suitable for half-time at a high school football game than on the musical theatre stage for a passionate story of love and betrayal. There were, to be fair, scenes and dance numbers that moved quickly and that effectively utilized the enthusiasm of the performers (especially the cast of Nubians). So, too, some of the more intimate scenes between Aida and Radames strongly communicated the inherent emotion of the play (the “Elaborate Lives” number was especially powerful). Simply said, although there was chemistry, enthusiasm, and emotion on stage, it was not consistent enough to make this good production outstanding.
To be fair, not all of the play’s problems stem from directing and choreography. The cast, though they seemed to work well as an ensemble, lacked the chemistry that makes a unified production. (This is not a comment on relationships between individual cast members. The chemistry between Robin Auva’a and Trent English helped to carry the show.) Whether this is due to a short rehearsal period or just the product of the combined personalities and energies of each actor is hard to tell. Those that have been involved in productions can attest to the fact that sometimes a cast makes magic, and sometimes it doesn’t. Good direction can often do much to compensate for a lack of such magic, but not always. That’s just part of the challenge of this live art form.
The set design by Sonja Ervin was simple but adequate, utilizing large set pieces and hangings which took advantage of the spacious amphitheatre stage. In addition, the scenes were enhanced by beautiful projections designed by Jack Vawdrey and lighting design by Cole Adams. Costumes by Brenda Harman were appropriate, descriptive and, at times, playful, especially those donned by the runway models in the musical number “Strongest Suit.” The music, conducted by director Trevor Jerome was noteworthy, although it drowned out the voices of the performers at times (some sound issues plagued the production, but these will hopefully be resolved, if they haven’t already).
On a whole, Aida meets the expectations for a community theatre production, with talented individuals enthusiastically coming together to contribute to the artistic well-being of an eager and happy audience. If you’re a fan of Aida or of Elton John’s music, attendance is recommended.