The long-awaited arrival of the blockbuster Disney musical Aida at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium is not just another opening of another show. It is an event, with musical theater and merchandising competing for audience attention.
This latest National Tour, produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and brought to the capital city by Broadway Series South, is a gala production superbly staged by original Broadway director Robert Falls, with dynamic dance routines and exuberant production numbers by choreographer Wayne Cilento.
Grand and glorious Tony-winning scenery and stunning Egyptian-inspired costume creations by original Broadway scenic and costume designer Bob Crowley dazzle the eye, and animated instrumental accompaniment from musical director/conductor Steven Cosmo Mallardi and his touring rock orchestra delight the ear.
The swimming-pool scene in which Pharaoh's daughter's handmaidens, suspended on wires, vertically swim and frolic in the pool is just one masterpiece of scenic design in a show that has a striking backdrop for every scene. Crowley's vivid scenery and colorful costumes for Egypt and Nubia and their inhabitants provide a veritable visual feast, whose effectiveness is immeasurably enhanced by Natasha Katz's superb Tony-winning lighting design. It is almost certainly the BEST lighting design ever for a Broadway musical performed at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.
This magnificent musical extravaganza, suggested by the 1871 opera Giuseppe Verdi, is a must-see musical, featuring a clever book by Linda Woolverton and Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang and soulful ballads and soaring production numbers by flamboyant composer/rock singer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, who previously collaborated so memorably on the score for The Lion King.
British-born actress and West End veteran Paulette Ivory is terrific-a real show-stopper-in the title role of the heroic captive Nubian princess forced to serve as handmaiden to Pharaoh's daughter Amneris. Regal in manner and robust in voice, Ivory has all the tools to be a big, big Broadway star.
Jeremy Kushnier, who originated the role of Ren in Footloose on Broadway and played Roger in the National Tour of Rent, gives a passionate performance as Egyptian explorer and war hero Radames. Although betrothed to Amneris, in a marriage arranged by his ultra-ambitious father Zoser, captain Radames becomes Aida's lover, aborting Zoser's well-laid plans for his son to marry into the royal family.
Lisa Brescia, who played a Disciple in the recent Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, at first provides giddy comic relief by making Amneris a silly, shallow, oversexed creature. When Radames rejects her, Amneris grows up quickly the hard way, and Brescia handles her emotional evolution superbly.
Eric L. Christian is a scream as Radames' wheeling-and-dealing Nubian servant Mereb, Robert Neary makes Radames' Machiavellian father Zoser a thoroughly hissable villain, and Peter Kapetan is solid as the dying Pharaoh secretly poisoned by Zoser and his henchmen.
James Harkness is good as the captured Nubian king Amonasro, and Ta'Rea Campbell contributes a nicely polished cameo as Nehebka, a brave Nubian slave willing to lay down her life for her princess.
Opera aficionados may turn up their noses at this rollicking pop opera, which takes itself none-too-seriously and takes such liberties in its portrayal Verdi's heroine and other characters. But Disney's Aida will rock on, playing to packed houses invigorated by the bouncy Elton John-Tim Rice score and receiving (well-deserved) standing ovations from audiences entranced by this charming Disney retelling of an ancient Egyptian legend of two star-crossed lovers who risked everything to be together at a time when their two countries were locked in a brutal war.
Broadway Series South presents Aida Wednesday, Oct. 23 and 30, at 8 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 24, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St. $21-$70, except $21 all seats 2 p.m. Oct. 24 and Special Web Offer: $10 off Mezzanine and Front Balcony seats Oct. 23-27 when ordered online via http://www.ticketmaster.com/. 919/834-4000 or 919/231-4575 (group discounts). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/broadway.html#aida [inactive 4/04] or http://disney.go.com/disneytheatrical/aida/index.html.