Aida By Elton John and Tim Rice
Directed by Derek Critzer
Musical Direction by Don Hopkinson
Starring LaDawn Taylor, Tony Flaherty, and Emily Granger
Clandestine Arts presenting at The Venue, Orlando FL

Strip away the foreign language and overwrought sopranos and most operas have reasonable interesting story lines: they tend to focus on cross-class forbidden romance and “Aida” is no exception. This is one of Verdi’s biggest hits, and the song writing team of Elton John and Tim Rice brushed it up to fit into the cannon of modern America Musical Theater. Aida (Taylor) is a princess of Nubia, and she and her peeps are out seeing the countryside when Radames (Flaherty) stops by to invade. The girls are captured and made slaves, but something about Aida catches his eye and he saves them from the certain death of working the copper and arsenic mines of Egypt. He sends Aida as a wedding present to his fiancé Amneris (Grainger), and while Aida is technically slave, here skills with color and fashion soon elevate her status to BFF. But this is still an opera at heart and if there’s a woman’s name in the title she will certainly die sometime around the last aria. Aida holds to this convention; everyone dies but you can still see them in a museum somewhere.

Sound in The Venue can be problematic, but musical director Don Hopkinson got everything damped down for the 8 piece band backing this show. While the acting tends to the wooden, when this cast opens it pipes to sing magic occurs. Radames starts strong with “Fortune Favors the Brave;” it’s a German lieder and it does a nice job of setting up the military and political backstory of this ill-starred romance. The upbeat, blow out number comes from Amneris and her court, “My Strongest Suite” makes full use of the run way that goes completely through audience seating and brings a 1980’s MTV energy to her ill starred love life. Aida gets here share of good tunes as well, “Easy as Life” and “Elaborate Lives” (in duet with Radames) gets both your blood and your hormones pumping. Even Zoser (J, Michel Werner) (Radames’ scheming father and 5th element in the story) gets a rafter rouser on “Like Father, Like Son.” Later local favorite Barry G. White drops in as the Nubian King Amonasro, but he’s not on stage as long as you’d like and doesn’t even get a song of his own.

Sometimes adaptations can go awry, but this one is quite effective. It’s much shorter than the full opera and you can follow it if even if your Italian isn’t very good. While it retains the flavor of the original, here the emphasis is not just on the pain Aida suffers, but we see more of how those around her feel. Life in ancient Egypt certain was brutish, painful and short, but love still worked just about as it does today. Plus, we have air conditioning and well balanced sound, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

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