Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida—a more modern, pop-py retelling of the tale told in the classic Verdi opera—was a success on Broadway, even winning a few Tony Awards. But it’s not always easy to tell why in the production of the show now onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre.
To be fair, the flaws seem to stem as much from the original itself—a script that uneasily mixes high drama and more jokey moments, along with ancient and contemporary sensibilities—as from the staging or cast here. Spectacular staging and Broadway-caliber cast members may have lifted Aida in New York, but it doesn’t hold a candle to its operatic namesake.
The basic story is certainly a familiar yet strong one: The Nubian princess Aida (Candace Delancy) is kidnapped and brought to Egypt as a slave by the soldier-explorer Radames (William E. Masuck), who gradually finds himself drawn to her despite his long engagement to Egyptian princess Amneris (Trina Rizzo). That relationship is partly a political one, as Radames’ scheming father, Zoser (Dan Yonko), wants to place his son on the throne and has plans to eliminate the current Pharaoh (Rodd Dyer). The forbidden love of Aida and Radames is, we know, doomed—because she, too, bears a responsibility to her country and her father, Amonasro (Getshal Vikkari). But this version of the story adds brief, modern-day opening and closing scenes at a museum that link the two lovers’ souls together again many centuries later.
There are strengths to the production. Newcomer Delancy looks and moves like an Aida should, and her singing feels natural, too. She and Masuck blend their voices together nicely on a couple of ballads, like Elaborate Lives and Enchantment Passing Through. Rizzo is likable as Amneris, in some ways the most compelling character here, as she makes the journey from being a spoiled princess concerned only with her looks and clothes (prompting a fashion show revue to the number My Strongest Suit) to becoming a ruler more in touch with humanity. And the scenery and projections by Marc Lalosh help keep the show’s scenes moving swiftly, avoiding static moments.
The supporting cast is more of a tossup. Aida’s fellow Nubians too often seem uncomfortable onstage, and their passion for their princess and their country is not all that convincingly portrayed. Likewise, the Egyptian soldiers in Radames’ command are not always believable. And it can be hard sometimes to understand the dialogue of the young Ty Cocroft as Mereb, Radames’ servant and Aida’s defender.
Aida is a change of pace in the community theater season, though, and one wants to applaud director Rick Kerby for trying something different. The production continues through March 11; call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.