Aida is exceptional!
I’ve reviewed a number of shows over the past few years, but I can confidently say that none have been easier to write than this one. (And that’s saying a lot considering I’ve written about the shows nearest and dearest to my heart.)
It’s difficult to decide on a single adjective to describe the final show of The Muny’s 98th season, but if I had to choose one, it’s this: Aida is exceptional. Of course, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice this comes as no surprise!
In part a heart-wrenching tale of forbidden love, Aida heightens its sense of conflict by weaving another love story into the plot—love of one’s country—leaving the title character greatly conflicted about which love must come first. Radames (Zak Resnick), who is the captain of the Egyptian army, is intrigued by Aida from the moment they meet…if you can even call it that. Along with several other Nubian women, Aida is captured and enslaved by Radames’ soldiers. Radames knows there’s something special about her (even if he won’t admit it initially), evidenced by the fact that he spares her from laborious work, presenting her as a gift to his fiancé instead.
Usually returning home is a cause for celebration, but Radames isn’t exactly thrilled by the circumstances that await him. For one thing, Pharaoh (Lara Teeter) has suddenly fallen seriously ill, meaning Radames could rise to the throne much sooner than expected. His dad, Zoser (Patrick Cassidy), also informs him that Pharaoh’s failing health warrants a rapid marriage to Pharaoh’s fashion-adoring daughter Amneris (Taylor Louderman). (She and Radames have been engaged for nearly a decade, so really, it’s about time.) Radames isn’t ready to “settle down,” but there’s a bigger problem: He is quickly falling for Aida, her strong-will and all. The conflict is only further advanced by the fact that Aida isn’t an ordinary slave. Unbeknownst to Radames, she’s Nubian royalty.
The storyline is captivating, but it was the accompanying music that drew me to the edge of my seat. The melodies are absolutely mesmerizing and intriguingly unpredictable. Watching Aida is a lot like unpacking a large gift bag full of goodies on Christmas morning—the audience is presented with melodic surprise after surprise as this show progresses. The only song I came into the show knowing was the lovely “Written in the Stars,” so I was especially caught off guard by—but thankful for—fast-paced numbers like “Another Pyramid,” “Like Father Like Son,” and the super fun “My Strongest Suit.” However, “How I Know You” would become one of my new favorites by its first chorus.
I wish there was a cast recording of this specific production because the performers were phenomenal. It was an honor to see former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams reprise her role as Aida, and Louderman shined just as brightly as Amneris. I beamed as The Muny audience broke into applause when St. Louis native Ken Page, who played Aida’s father, walked onto the stage. It’s always wonderful to welcome home one of our own.
When show’s end rolled around, it took a valid effort on my part not to shed a tear or two—not simply because of what unfolds onstage but because this is the last show of the season, and summer 2017 seems so far away. The Muny is a St. Louis gem, and Aida will leave viewers counting down the days until season 99 begins! | Megan Washausen
Aida runs through August 14. For ticket information, visit http://muny.org/.