Watching a love triangle set to music and dance may not be considered a great way to spend an evening, but the lure of ancient Egypt and the world famous title of “Aida” can pack a theater.
Thursday was the opening night of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Aida,” playing at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in Orem. A Disney-backed show, the long-running Broadway hit runs through Aug. 13 Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $8 to $14 and patrons without reserved seating may bring a blanket or rent a chair for $1 to view the show.
The cast of 44 people has been rehearsing for just over five weeks, working not only on music and dance numbers, but also concentrating on the story “Aida” tells.
“We fought to direct this play,” said Kathryn Little, who is co-directing the show with her husband, Howard. “I love the story and the music. You can’t beat Elton John, and the story is compelling. There’s nothing better than a really good love story, and it’s a really good love story. It also has action and enough spectacles and dancing. It’s kind of a show that has it all.”
Based on Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, the musical tells the tale of Aida, a Nubian princess, who falls in love with Radames, her Egyptian captor. Their romance is in peril when the lovers discover the way to end the war between their fighting nations is for Radames to marry an Egyptian princess. The two are forced to face death or part forever.
“The stakes are always high for each of the characters,” said Adam Gardner, who plays Radames, in an email. “So whether they’re speaking, singing or dancing to tell their story, the audience is drawn by that need to resolve the conflict at hand.”
Influenced by Egyptian tombs, trap doors and hieroglyphs, the set is a major part of the production.
“I did a lot of research before designing the set and found different elements and different feels I wanted to use,” said Travis Coyne, the shows set designer and a member of BYU’s design and production team. “The set can suggest many locations. We don’t get bogged down with scene changes. It allows the show to flow from one scene to another.”
The set is mostly tans and earth tones, while the costumes supply vibrant colors. The lighting used in the show seems to add another layer of color, making the set come to life.
“When I was originally reading and coming up with concepts … I felt impressed it would be kind of neat to have [characters] come up through the ground and that’s how I got into the idea of incorporating trap doors into the play,” Coyne said.
Although the set is a major part of the production, it seems the musical score is what cast members believe the best quality of “Aida” is.
“The music is brilliant,” Gardner said in an email. ” I’m still amazed at the lyrics every time I stop and listen to what I’m singing, or what others are singing. It’s like listening to a rock concert, but with less drugs, more emotion and nobody smashes a guitar at the end of the show.”
The musical numbers range from love songs to up-tempo numbers infused with reggae and Motown.
“The music itself is a great reason to see the show, but beyond that, [the directors] have really worked hard to make sure the music is a vehicle for the story and not just a nice vocal performance in the middle of a chain of events,” Gardner said in an email. ” Some songs will keep you smiling, others will rip your heart out.”
Latoya Rhodes plays Aida in the SCERA’s production. From her opening encounter with Radames to the end of the show, Rhodes seems to express perfectly the conflicting emotions her character feels for her fellow Nubians and love of Radames in a way that displays power and passion while maintaining a sweet vulnerability.
“[Aida] is a young, powerful woman who is so passionate and has so much strength,” Rhodes said in an email. “I love that about her and that’s what drew me to her. Other actors typically portray those sides of her. I wanted to play those characteristics and then I wanted to discover what other sides and characteristics Aida has. I get butterflies just knowing that I get to play this role and present it to an audience. I make sure I don’t take a moment for granted. … I’m bringing as much as I am able to, to Aida, so I hope people will be inspired by her and her story.”
Other leads include Tanika Little as Amneris, princess of Egypt and Radames’ fiancé, Rick Priddis as Zoser, chief minister of Egypt and Radames’ father, Alec Powell as Mereb, Radames’ Nubian servant and Rick Robinson as Aida’s father Amonasro, the king of Nubia.
After its SCERA run, “Aida” will be a featured event at BYU’s Education Week.
“I really hope our audience is ready to get lost in the story like I do when I’m performing it,” Rhodes said in an email. “It’s a beautiful theater piece that really can make an everlasting impression. It’s romance under the stars.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, call 801–225–ARTS or visit scera.org.