Stage review: 'Aida' cast hits the high notes for Pittsburgh CLO
July 27, 2016 11:48 AM
Emmy Raver-Lampman belts out a song in the title role in "Elton John and TIm Rice's Aida" for Pittsburgh CLO, at the Benedum through Sunday.
Mark Evans as Radames and Emmy Raver-Lampman as Aida in the Pittsburgh CLO production of "Aida," subtitled "the timeless love story," with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice.
Mark Evans and Kathryn Boswell in Pittsburgh CLO's "Aida," at the Benedum Center through Sunday.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh CLO steps into new territory as it time travels to ancient Egypt, which provides the steamy backdrop for forbidden love in the “Aida” of Elton John and Tim Rice.
The musical now at the Benedum Center introduces three new voices to the company, two of which have been heard here in other shows but never like this. Emmy Raver-Lampman, who played “Wicked’s” Elphaba in the national tour, delivers a powerhouse performance as Aida in PCLO’s first-time production of the musical.
Ms. Raver-Lampman’s most recent projects have been as an ensemble member of “Hamilton” and a cast member of “SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical.” Here, she is front and center as the noble Nubian princess who is enslaved but never bowed, a woman who steals the heart of Radames (Mark Evans), her Egyptian captor, and befriends his betrothed, the Princess Amneris (Kathryn Boswell).
‘Elton John’s Aida’
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25-$80; pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666.
Duty and destiny doom the lovers, but all get to show off their singing chops, with Ms. Raver-Lampman getting gasp-worthy for the song “The Gods Love Nubia,” backed by the ensemble and the Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church choir. The number ends act one on a “wow” note.
We meet Radames eager to return to his adventurous life on the Nile and singing, “we are free to have it all,” which he soon learns is a delusion. For a chance to be with Aida, he must give up everything while defying his father and pharaoh. As Radames, Mr. Evans sheds any memory of his appearance as Elder Price in the first national tour of “The Book of Mormon.” Going mostly shirtless and showing off his vocal range, he and his co-star bring the heat to the operatic melodrama.
Three writers have credits for the book of the musical, which tells the tragic tale of doomed lovers and the victims of Egyptian imperialism. The songs come at you in a mix of genres that are melded by the almost constant angst. It is most welcome when Ms. Boswell’s oh-so-blond Amneris, who begins as a preening princess, sings “My Strongest Suit (Is a Dress),” in a comedic girl-group number with a fashion show reminiscent of the processional of frauleins in “The Producers.”
Picture her character as a predecessor of “Wicked’s” Glinda, from her initial ditzy demeanor to her growth in strength and compassion. And, oh, she does wear some great dresses throughout the night.
Also making a memorable PCLO debut is Point Park University senior Lamont Walker II. As the wise-cracking Nubian slave Mereb, he recognizes Aida as a princess in her own right but keeps her secret. He also holds his own in every scene with seasoned actors.
The musical begins with promise, transporting the audience by way of a modern museum display that is a portal into the past and a hint of the musical’s subtitle, “The Timeless Love Story.” The creative exposition also offers insight into why “Aida” won all five of the Tony Awards it was up for in 2000 — best costumes, lighting, set design, musical score and actress, for Heather Headley in the title role.
The Pittsburgh CLO “Aida,” under Barry Ivan’s direction, was seamless on opening night Tuesday. The show boasts a multilevel set and lighting design that makes even women carrying baskets a memorable moment.
A fine production, though, can’t mask the musical’s flaws.
The John-Rice songwriting team, after taking Broadway by storm with “The Lion King,” turned their sights to Verdi’s 1871 opera as their next venture. With “Aida,” they once again basked in a Shakespeare-esque tragedy, with the added bonus of a classic love triangle that “Wicked” would echo long after “Aida” hit Broadway in 2000.
Unlike “The Lion King” or “Wicked,” the attempt at transforming one of the world’s best-known operas into a pop musical often seems like a procession of vocal gymnastics. The good news is that Pittsburgh CLO has gathered an enormously talented cast that can hit all the high notes, and then some.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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