‘Aida’ fraught with excess, but in an addictive way

You can enjoy Super Summer Theatre/Signature Productions’ "Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida" by simply thinking of all the shows it reminds you of. Its story of doomed love set among nobility and slaves is "Jesus Christ Superstar" polygamized with "Evita," "The Lion King," and Bob-Fosse-does-ancient Egypt.

There are legions of fans who are pumped by Elton John and Tim Rice’s artificially orgasmic score, and there’s plenty of over-the-top emoting to satisfy those who equate melodic screaming with depth.

In other words, "Aida" is muck. But it’s the kind of muck that some find addictive. If the show description sounds enticing, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Steve Huntsman’s likable production.

The two-hour 10-minute musical is about an hour too long, but it achieves at least 45 minutes of irresistible entertainment. Huntsman and choreographer Keith Dotson do an expert job of kidding the material without sabotaging it. The self-mocking tone is evident the moment we see Cristian Bell’s detailed but simple-in-feel set. The interestingly shaped, odd-angled platforms, a small turntable and the pastel colors suggest a modern sensibility while still offering a strong whiff of the past. The ambiance is made to vary in emotional temperature by Jay LeDane’s often breathtaking lighting. Huntsman’s costumes make for an eclectic array of moods and places: traditional pharaoh get-ups mixed with jeans, derbies, leather, modern formal gowns and Bollywood excess. It adds up to a giddy sense of showbiz kitsch.

Dominating the visuals is the statuesque Tai Lewis in the title role, a princess disguised as a slave. Lewis is a dynamo of a stage presence, and sings with the command of royalty. Brandon Albright as the military captain from the other side who is unfortunate enough to fall in love with Aida, projects a masculine vulnerability that matches up well with Lewis’ bravado. With his boy-band angst, and his character’s constantly forgetting to put his shirt on, Albright may well increase the appeal of local musicals in the pre-teen market. And Nicole Riding as the narrator and love-starved princess brings some stunning vocal shadings to an underwritten role.

The acting, unfortunately, is frequently overwrought, and the lack of sharply defined characterizations and transitions robs the love story of some of its power. The singing carries much of the evening, but the never-ending gut-busting showstoppers aren’t supported by dramatic need. There’s a point where you say, "enough already."

"Aida" is a reminder that Vegas is brimming with extraordinary singing talent. And it begs the question: Is singing easier to learn than acting? Or does acting training just not get the same kind of respect?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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