Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang
Directed by Scott Ferguson
Music Direction by Jimmy Morehead & Robert Ollis
Choreographers: Gary Abbott & Kevin Iega Jeff
Produced by Bailiwick Chicago
At American Theatre Company (ATC) Chicago
Aida is a major triumph for Bailiwick Chicago!
Scott Ferguson and the new Bailiwick Chicago collective of Chicago non-Equity players have reinvented and revived the troubled, over-produced and over-amped Broadway production of the 1998 musical, Aida, with music by Elton John and Lyrics by Tim Rice. Ferguson made several excellent choices for Aida, starting with casting mostly African-American players as the main characters. Next, despite budget limitations, John Holt’s set and Sarah N. Ramos’ lighting gave the show a large, vivid look on ATC’s intimate stage. Ferguson utilized the talents of Gary Abbott & Kevin Iega Jeff and the dancers from their Deeply Rooted Dance troupe to give the show an African influence as well as a Middle Eastern feel in the dances.
Aida sure isn’t Verdi’s grand opera nor is it the screaming, overblown spectacle Disney produced. Rather, Ferguson’s Aida is an emotional, heartfelt musical that is fueled by forbidden love and a terrific score. It is a rock musical without being to loud–rather it is a finely crafted use of rock music that enhances the singing without competing or drowning out the singers. Musical directors Jimmy Morehead (vocals) and Robert Ollis (orchestra) got the balance into a blend that enabled the singers to emote all the meanings, emotions and sentiments contained yet still getting the music heard. This Aida should be a model of how to use sound in a rock musical. Amazingly, I could understand all the lyrics and I could feel the deep set emotions contained.
Aida is a love story that finds an Egyptian officer, Radames (Brandon Chandler), who is engaged to the Pharaoh’s daughter, falling in love with a Nubian slave – Aida (Rashada Dawan). When Radames finds out that Aida is really a Nubian Princess, he must choose between his country or his love. This romantic tragedy features an assortment of vain and evil characters each plotting their own advantages in the Pharaoh’s court. Amneris (Adrianna Parson) is the fashion conscious Pharaoh’s daughter promised to Radames. Zoser (Bob Pries) is the plotting father of Radames who aspires power. Mereb (Aaron Holland) is the Nubian slave and servant to Radames secretly loyal to Aida.
Aida is a rock operetta featuring a 70’s style score contains eclectic elements including reggae, Motown, gospel and pop/rock. There are soaring ballads and love songs, strong anthems and striking dance rhythms. “The Gods Love Nubia” is a haunting gospel tune and my favorite song from the show. The soulful, heart-wrenching show features a nice assortment of strong voices. Brandon Chandler’s pop tenor was smooth while Bob Pries and Aaron Holland nail their songs. Adrianna Parson enchants with her silky voice but Rashada Dawan sings Aida with a belt as she reaches into the emotions of her numbers deftly. Dawan is a talent. This cast has a load of young artists who can act and sing reaching the depth of emotions not felt in earlier productions of Aida.
We care about Aida and Radames and we empathize with Mereb and Amneris. We are challenged by Aida’s story to ponder “What would you sacrifice for eternal love?” I can’t remember enjoying a rock musical as much as I did Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida. They raised the bar for mounting rock musicals by showing that you don’t have to blast the music loudly to be a hit. With such a terrific cast of singers- they beg to be heard and they have much to sing. This Aida is for more enjoyable than the last national tour and for a quarter of the price. This Aida is a major summer triumph not to be missed.
At ATC, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111, tickets $25 -$35, Thursdays thu Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays & Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 1, 2010