All Hail “Aida” at Broward Center
By Skip Sheffield
Slow Burn Theatre Company brings out all the bells and all the whistles for its production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” for its season finale, running through May 7 at Broward Center for the Arts.
The qualification of Elton John and Tim Rice is important, because “Aida” bears little resemblance to the opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi. This version, written by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, was based on a children’s storybook version of the opera, which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company with the aim of creating a stage musical. In short this is a simplified story that boils down to a love story that takes a tragic turn.
The star-crossed lovers are Aida (Khalifa White), a Nubian princess who is captured and forced into slavery in Egypt, and Radames (Stephen Millet), an Egyptian army captain who is engaged to Amneris (Amy Miller Brennan), daughter of the Pharaoh (Matthew Korinko). Slow Burn director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater had to go to Orlando to find Khalifa White, who is delicately beautiful with a powerhouse soprano.
Amneris is the very definition of spoiled princess whereas Aida is naturally noble. This is a welcome return to the stage for Amy Miller Brennan, who took off time to have a daughter. While her character is not sympathetic, Brennan finds the pathos in the haughty, materialistic princess with a stunning singing voice. In fact she starts the show with “Every Story is a Love Story,” which is a capsule definition of the plot.
Every story needs a villain. In this case it is Zoser (Larry Buzzeo), who is slowly poisoning the Pharaoh for his own gain. Every chorus needs a ringer. Kendra Williams is that person, exciting with her gospel-charged voice.
Viewers may have a sense of “déjà vu” with the music, especially if they have seen “Evita” and “The Lion King,” both of which had lyrics by Rice. Elton John favors show-stopping anthems, which makes this show as much concert as play. “The Gods Love Nubia” is one such anthem. It closes both Act One and Act Two. Close-harmony duets are also big, with “Written in the Stars” sung by Radames and Aida the best of the lot.
The bells are the elaborate sets by Sean McClelland and beautiful costumes by Rick Pena. The whistles are the unseen live band directed by ever-creative Manny Schvartzman. In short “Aida” is grade-A Disney entertainment as interpreted by our own Slow Burn Theatre. Tickets are $47-$60. Call 954-462-0222 or 800-745-3000.