“Every story, new or ancient……all are tales of human failing, all are tales of love at heart.”
Originally debuted on Broadway in 2000 and the winner of four Tony Awards, Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida opened at Benedum Center this week and brought back a beam of heat and passion to these rainy July days. In its first-time production of this timeless musical, Pittsburgh CLO beautifully delivered another huge summer hit with a sensational cast and a phenomenal design.
With a book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang, basing on a children’s storybook adaption of Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian-language opera of the same name , Aida tells a star-crossed love story between an enslaved but courageous Nubian princess Aida, and her captor Radames, captain of the Egyptian army who is betrothed to the Princess Amneris of Egypt. In the show where love is conflicted with hate, and peace is trumped by war and separation, the talents of the cast were destined to shine through and became the biggest spotlight of the night.
Playing the title role with great strength and elegance is Hamilton veteran Emmy Raver-Lampman, who is an original workshop cast member of The SpongeBob Musical and can be recently seen as Elphaba in the national tour of Wicked. With the very first note she sings in her solo number “The Past is Another Land” in Act I, she immediately grabbed audiences’ attention. Then in the entire two and half hour show, she took us on the heroine’s journey fueled with intricate emotions and an astonishing voice. And when she delivered that Act I finale number “The Gods Love Nubia” accompanied beautifully by the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church Choir, with everyone already on their feet cheering, you just know that with a Broadway powerhouse in the theater, you never have to wait until the end of the show to get a standing ovation.
Another audiences’ favorite is Captain Radames, played by Mark Evans who was recently pressing the doorbells around the nation as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. Presenting both physicality and agility fiercely throughout the show, Radames is the hero you will care and fall for in a heart beat. And Mr. Evans turned that romantic notion just up a notch with a breathtaking dynamic on stage with Ms. Raver-Lampman. Playing his betrothed Princess Amneris is another Broadway veteran Ms. Kathryn Boswell who portrays this comedic-relief character in a broader emotional dimension with a sharpened vocal performance. And last but no least, Point Park senior Lamont Walker II plays the young confidant Mereb with a lovable wit, and proved to everyone in his powerful rendition of “How I know You” in the Act II reprise that he’s the true black horse of the night.
Aida is THE timeless love story, and with this production Pittsburgh CLO showed us all that Barry Ivan is THE director and choreographer it needed. With a visual narrative focus and an electrifying yet faithful staging, Mr. Ivan masterfully captured the transformative nature of the hero and heroine’s journeys throughout the show while always kept the story engaging. Directed by Tom Helm, the Orchestra plays Ser Elton John’s exceedingly diverse yet incredibly moving score gorgeously and also became the perfect companion to Mr. Ivan’s artistic creation. And the end result–every dance and ensemble number became a theatrical highlight.
If the cast is the full moon of the Egyptian night, then the design teams in this production are the true stars of the sky. From the modern museum to the ancient Egypt palace and pyramid, the set and scenery of the show, designed by Neil Patel (whose work can recently be seen in no other show than Benjamin Scheuer’s one-man musical The Lion), truly fused two timelines together and produced a work of heart and passion that will transcend through space and time. And every scene change only became a more exhilarating moment supplemented by Mr. Paul Miller’s breathtaking lighting design walking on the edge of light and shadow. And finally when the entire royal bedroom suddenly turned into a fashion T stage full of star-stunned costumes and luxurious hairpieces, you just couldn’t help but agree with the fact that “the dress is truly the show’s strongest suit”.
Another Pittsburgh CLO production. Another Broadway classic turned into a new hit. Although Aida might already temporarily end its journey in the Steel City, the real message and momentum of the heroine’s journey ever stop. Just like how it sings in the song, “this the story, of a love that flourished, in a time of hate.” And perhaps next time when we face another conflict between love and hate, peace and war, unity and separation, we just need to remember those simple but powerful stories that stood against a hundred lifetimes, and assure ourselves that, “love never ends.”
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh CLO for complimentary press tickets. For ticketing and seasonal information, click here.
Photo credits: Archie Carpenter