BWW Review: AIDA at Axelrod Performing Arts Center Addresses The True Meaning of Love and Sacrifice
Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida is now being performed at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center this June to the delight of its audiences. Aida first opened on Broadway in 2000 and ran for four years. The Broadway production starred Adam Pascal, Heather Headley, and Sherie Rene Scott in the lead roles. The highly acclaimed show was nominated for five Tony Awards, and won four out of five, including Best Original Score. The Aida cast recording also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Aida, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, tells the story of a love triangle between Aida, an enslaved Nubian Princess, Radames, an Egyptian Captain, and Amneris, an Egyptian Princess. Set in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Radames meets Aida on one of his expeditions where her people are being captured because their countries are at war. He feels sorry for her and decides to give her an alternate punishment, and keep her under the watch of the Egyptian Palace. Aida doesn't tell the Egyptians she is a princess because she fears that their soldiers will kill her. Radames is set to marry Amneris, but unexpectedly falls in love with Aida and tries to protect her. Radames and Aida must determine where their true happiness lies, even if it means risking their own lives.
American Idol's Ace Young leads the cast as the Egyptian Captain Radames. From the start of the show, he delivers a strong performance with the pop song, "Fortune Favors the Brave." This occurs when Radames returns from a successful battle with his army along the Nile River. Young has a brassy, rockstar voice that fills the entire theater with energy and fits this song perfectly. He brings a softer sound to the quieter number, "Not Me," where Radames realizes he is taking his privileged life for granted. Young displays great chemistry with his co-star, Anita Welch, who plays the Nubian Princess, Aida. They share many memorable duets together, such as "Enchantment Passing Through," when they explain what an alternate version of their lives would be like, "Elaborate Lives," where he declares his love for Aida, and "Written In The Stars," when Radames becomes upset that he can't be with Aida because he is supposed to marry Amneris.
In addition to having a wonderful performance onstage with Ace Young, Anita Welch holds her own in the title role of Aida. She exuberates the personality of a bold, unafraid, young woman in the song "The Past is Another Land." As one of the leaders of her country, Aida continuously reminds the Nubian slaves to never lose hope, even when the Egyptians took everything from them. Welch's undeniable talent became present in the Act I Finale, "The Gods Love Nubia," where Aida tells her people that this war will only lead their county to a better place. Her solo, "Easy As Life," captivated the audience with spirit and passion, and she carried the weight of this role with grace.
Erin Maya portrays the self-absorbed, fashionable Egyptian Princess Amneris. She serves as the narrator of the show in the opening number, "Every Story is a Love Story." When Aida is sent to her to help sew an outfit for a palace banquet, she expresses her love of fashion in the song, "My Strongest Suit." The song had a fashion show, which showcased the costume designs of Robert Croghan with glitter fabrics that represented Egypt's wealth. In addition to the unique costumes, the audience was able to hear what an incredible belter Maya is. When Amneris finds out that Radames, her fiancée, is in love with Aida, she sings the beautiful ballad, "I Know The Truth." Although Amneris comes off as being materialistic, this song revealed a different side to her, explaining that is hurting inside from a situation she is not able to control. Performing these well-known musical theater songs proved that Maya could sing in a variety of ranges and still sound amazing.
The set design by Kate Rance was heavily connected to Aida's plot comprising of a neon light outlining a triangle. Herrick Goldman's lighting design added to the set and captured the essence of Egypt with colorful, fluorescent lighting. The triangle represented various symbols, such as a love triangle and the pyramids of Egypt. In the Act II opening number, "A Step Too Far," Radames, Aida, and Amneris, stood in the shape of a triangle with the set behind them embodying the tensions in each of their relationships. Young, Welch, and Maya's harmonies made them a powerful trio who worked well together onstage.
Other standout performances in Aida included Angel J. Sigala as Mereb, the friend and confidant of Aida and Radames, singing the song, "How I Know You," Clayton Howe as Radames' father Zoser in the solo "Another Pyramid," Rutledge Varley as Amneris' father Pharaoh, Devin Kessler as Aida's friend Nehebka, and Richard Coleman as Aida's father Amonasro. Each of these actors did justice to Elton John and Tim Rice's Grammy-winning score. In addition, the ensemble did a fantastic job dancing Luis Salgado's choreography. Axelrod's production of Aida reminded viewers of how important this musical is.
Tickets for Aida can be purchased by calling 732-531-9106 ex. 14 or by visiting the Axelrod Performing Arts Center website at https://www.axelrodartscenter.com. The show will be performed in the Vogel Auditorium through June 16. The theatre is located at 100 Grant Avenue in Deal Park, NJ. For more information on Axelrod Performing Arts Center, you can follow them on Twitter and Instagram @axelrodarts or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/axelrodarts/