Tuesday, March 14, 2006

AIDA (Playhouse Square Center)

'AIDA' bring them to their feet at the State Theatre

Several weeks ago a Disney production of 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' graced a Playhouse Square Theatre. From now until March 24th another Disney production is being seen in Cleveland. Though AIDA is aimed at a very different audience, it contains all the Disney elements...grand sets and costumes, fanciful dancing, creative lighting effects, lush music and a competent cast. The pleasure of the audience was displayed on opening night by an immediate standing ovation. In actuality, the applause was probably more for the singing of the lead actors than the production as a whole.

This contemporary version of 'AIDA' starts and ends in the Egyptian room of a modern museum. Amneris, once a queen of an ancient kingdom, invites the audience to witness the tale of love and a struggle for power during the era when war raged between Egypt and its neighbor Nubia. The story relates how an Egyptian army captain, Radames falls in love with Aida, one of the Nubians he has captured. Unknown to him, she is a princess. Their love is fraught with numerous obstacles. The story’s ending leads us to believe that Aida and Radames will spend eternity together entombed beneath the sands of the Egyptian desert. Their tomb has been transported to a museum where, in their reincarnated forms, they meet once again.

Paulete Ivory captivates as Aida. Her voice is glorious. The huge sound that comes from such a tiny woman is amazing. Patrick Cassidy, a cousin of the famous Partridge family Cassidy’s, has a strong singing voice and a powerful physical presence which the costumer has accented by having him appear shirtless in numerous scenes. Local audiences may well remember him for his wonderful portrayal several seasons ago in 'JOSEPH AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT.' Kelli Fournier, for some unknown reason other than the show needed some comic relief, plays Amneris as a Fran Dresher nasal sounding clothes horse. Her wonderful singing voice makes up, however, for the questionable character development.

The dancing is proficient. The costuming is confusing. The Nubians are dressed as native Africans, the Egyptians, however, are in mixed contemporary garb which is not ethnically identifiable.

Typical of Disney productions, no cost has been spared on this show. The tour travels in 13 semi trucks. There are 29 cast members, 9 musicians, 23 backstage crew and 3 stage managers. The pyramid at the opening of Act 2 is formed by two laser lights. One hundred twelve yards of Chinese silk are used to form the Nile River in one scene and 80 yards of silk form the sails on Radames’ ship. To create the night stars 17 fiber optic sources are used. The swimmers in the palace pool (yes, there is a vertical swimming pool) are each flown by use of a waist harness.

Capsule judgement: The score, though by Elton John and Tim Rice, fails to produce a memorable song. The story line is forced and slightly hokey. But when those elements are combined with Disney grandeur, it produces a pleasing evening of theatre. Not great, but enjoyable.