The Disney-produced pop-musical update of “Aida” is a lavish, spare-no-expense kind of show with infinitely more style than substance.
The national touring company is at the Capitol Theatre through July 29, giving most Utahns their first chance to see what all the fuss was about on Broadway last year. The fuss stemmed mainly from the show’s authors being Tim Rice and Elton John — the duo behind an even bigger success, “The Lion King.” The show itself is not worthy of much fuss, except for its brilliantly colored sets and costumes.
The opening number tells us that “Aida” is “the story of a love that flourished in a time of hate.” Those are the words of Amneris (Kelli Fournier), daughter of Egypt’s pharaoh and betrothed to the mighty warrior Radames (Patrick Cassidy).
Radames isn’t much interested in this arranged marriage, though. It was the brainstorm of his conniving father, Zoser (Neal Benari), who wants Radames to be heir to the throne, and to that end is currently poisoning the pharaoh.
But Radames has just returned from Nubia with a boatload of slaves, among them one Aida (single-named Simone), who is the Nubian princess. She’s more outspoken than most slaves, and Radames, enchanted by her, gives her to Amneris as a gift.
Soon there is a love triangle: Amneris loves Radames, who loves Aida, who begins to love Radames, too. Their love is forbidden, and since it’s based on an opera, you can guess it ends tragically.
Except it’s been Disneyfied (i.e., watered down). It’s not an all-out happy ending now, but it’s no longer particularly tragic, either. It’s a cop-out.
The ballad-heavy score has some outstanding numbers. Zoser’s “Another Pyramid” is clever (though it’s marred by some silly dancing), and Radames’ chief slave Mereb (a too-broad Jacen R. Wilkerson) sings the haunting “How I Know You” upon first meeting Aida.
The best song, though, goes to Amneris, who also happens to be the best character. “My Strongest Suit,” in which she sings of her devotion to fashion and accessories, is mostly just laugh-out-loud funny, belying the depth which her character will eventually be shown to possess. Kelly Fournier is fantastic in this role, going for the laughs when they’re available, but also imbuing Amneris with real humanity.
The two ostensible leads, however, suffer from Touring Company Syndrome: Anyone who saw the Broadway version will sorely miss its two stars, who were in an average show but performed with above-average skill. Patrick Cassidy and Simone are great singers, but their acting is affected and thin. They melodramatically dump their characters’ emotions on the stage, rather than actually feeling them.
As mentioned, the costumes and sets, designed by Bob Crowley, are gorgeous. They are solid colors, mostly, with very few mixtures or patterns. That’s fitting for a show that is itself always either one color or another, with little shading or texture.
I didn't care for this show when I saw it on Broadway, and seeing it with a less-talented cast didn't help any. It really is a watered-down ending that falls flatly between tragedy and happiness. Blah.