Interview: Luis Salgado of AIDA at STAGES St. Louis In The Ross Family Theater At The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

Elton John and Tim Rice's AIDA Runs Through July 2nd at STAGES St. Louis

By: Jun. 04, 2023
Interview: Luis Salgado of AIDA at STAGES St. Louis In The Ross Family Theater At The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

Interview: Luis Salgado of AIDA at STAGES St. Louis In The Ross Family Theater At The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

Last year, Luis Salgado directed and choreographed IN THE HEIGHTS at STAGES St. Louis. It was among the most critically acclaimed productions of the year in St. Louis. His production was recognized with 11 St. Louis Critics Circle nominations and six wins including Outstanding Production, Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Choreography. This year, Salgado returns to STAGES St. Louis to direct and choreograph AIDA which opens on Wednesday, June 7th in the Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. Broadway World had the opportunity to sit down today to talk with Salgado about the production, his creative team, and who has influenced him to become the powerhouse director and choreographer he has become.

Welcome back to St. Louis! Last you year enjoyed enormous success with IN THE HEIGHTS. What inspired you to return to STAGES St. Louis to direct AIDA?

The art and the whole theatre community here at STAGES St. Louis. Jack (Lane) and Michael (Hamilton) have created a special foundation of art making in St. Louis that is very respected. I feel honored to be a part of it. Now, Gayle (Seay) the artistic director and Andrew (Kuhlman) the executive producer have invited me to bring new ideas to the table as you’ll see in this production. Gayle had seen the concept I created about six years ago in New Jersey at Axelrod Theatre and asked if I wanted to further my vision at STAGES. I said, “absolutely.” 

What is it about this book and this score that make AIDA special?

I have a personal connection to it. AIDA was the first show that I fell in love with on Broadway. I grew up in Puerto Rico and didn’t have the luxury of knowing what Broadway looked like. When I was 17-year-old I went to see Broadway Shows for the very first time. I listen to the cast album thousands of times and Adam Pascal and Heather Headley’s voices spoke to me. The quality of this show, the technical elements, the lighting design, the set design, the costuming, inspired me to move to New York City.

You mention you directed the show at Axelrod Theatre in New Jersey. How much of that production are you bringing with you and what are you changing and adding to this production?

My vision from the previous production was to unite two opposite worlds, the world of rock ‘n roll with the music and lighting juxtaposed with the avant-garde directing style and aesthetics of Robert Wilson. The disparities between these two styles are just like the differences between the Egyptians and the Nubians. I brought that vision and much of the same team with me here to stages, the same lighting and scenic designers. Then, working with costume designer Brad (Musgrove) from STAGES adds a layer of costuming that I didn’t have before. I’m very grateful to STAGES for helping me further my vision.

This is one of the brilliant Disney scores that you can have in your hands, but now, post-pandemic the challenges with this show are very different. With the previous production the world was in a different place. It was easier to tackle some of the topics in AIDA. Now, I as sit and watch this show as an audience member today I see the universal themes of acceptance and bringing people together. So, because of the different reality, where I am as a human and an artist, it required me to address the changes with the cast. We invested three days in rehearsals with the help of our cultural coordinator, Tavia Rivee Jefferson, to help the company understand the community, the culture and the topics we were dealing with. 

Talk about your principals. You worked with Ace Young when you did AIDA in New Jersey. What does he bring to the role of Radames? What does Wonu Ogunfowora and Diana DeGarmo bring to their roles of Aida and Amneris?

They all bring very different things.  Ace knows me and has done the show before. He has a free soul and is the most generous human you can have in the process of rehearsal. I’m not traditional, I let the artists discover and then I have a dialogue with them. Ace can be in that space, be playful and make the other actors comfortable. What I have to build with him is the harsh edge that he needs as the soldier in the beginning of the show. Wonu is Aida. She is powerful and stoic. She is examining her world from a social standpoint and asking questions about right and wrong. Diana has brilliant comedic timing. She can peel off a thousand layers from her characterization. The collaboration has been beautiful as we work to make Amneris vulnerable, human and smart. She is doing something very beautiful with the character.

You’ve worked with many of the giants in musical theatre. Who were your most impactful mentors and what did you take from them that made you a successful director, choreographer, actor and dancer?

Every single person I’ve worked with has left something with me artistically. But of everyone that I’ve worked with I can narrow it down to three people. First is Andy Blankenbuehler. I call him the poet of choreography. When working with him you dissect every movement and what it means as a metaphor. He’s been very generous to me, and I’ve learned a lot from him. Second is Sergio Trujillo because he represents where I come from. He is Columbian. I am Puerto Rican. We share Latin heritage and I identify very strongly with him. Sergio learned from Jerome Robbins and Jerry Mitchell. He is like my dad. He pushes me. I’m grateful because he has taught me the discipline required during pre-production. Finally, Jerry Mitchell. He makes a room fun. He is very smart and has the talent of making people enjoy the process.

Who surprised you the most with what they brought to the creative process?

Sergio has an excellent eye. He walks into the room, looks at the stage and points out seven things that will not work. He knows the moment he enters the space.

What is it about this cast and creative team is going to want to make audience members want to buy a ticket to see this production of AIDA?

That is a tough answer. The collaboration of this ensemble is really strong. By ensemble I mean all the elements that make a show, the cast, the lighting designer, the costume designer, the sound designer, the props master and all of the crew. This show gives an opportunity for everyone to shine. As a director I’m celebrating all the creative team that makes up our show and how all the elements come together. The same way that we are pleading to the world that it is OK for us to come together. It’s what is happening between Aida and Radames. We don’t need to keep killing ourselves to create separation.


2023 Regional Awards


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