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Las Vegas Academy’s ‘Aida’ powerfully uplifting

Despite the Romeo and Juliet ending and the somber theme of imperialist domination of an oppressed people, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” as performed by the Las Vegas Academy Theatre will uplift your heart.

“Aida” is the grandest of all grand operas and this spectacular musical theater version with music by John and lyrics by Rice is based on a children’s book retelling of the story by that most famous of all Aidas, Leontyne Price.

The music is exuberant and eclectic, ranging from reggae to gospel, with stirring traditional Broadway ballads. The lyrics are sharply humorous and moving. The music was perfectly performed by the young singers and musicians of the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

The play’s action is cleverly framed by contemporary scenes at a museum.

Ja’Keetrius Woods is radiantly noble as the doomed Nubian princess enslaved by Egyptian plunderer Radames. Handsome Deylan Dean plays the Egyptian captain like a spoiled boy who is used to getting what he wants. When he falls in love with Aida, he thinks that he can make everything right simply by giving away all his loot (“Not Me”). In Woods’ movingly sung “Easy as Life,” her Aida knows she must give away her heart.

The two powerhouse singers can rock the theater rafters, but they also know how to convey more intimate moments and make a lovely romantic duo in “Enchantment Passing Through,” “Elaborate Lives” and “Written in the Stars.”

Radames is betrothed to marry Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris. Nikole York blasts the humorous showstopper, “My Strongest Suit,” unashamedly proclaiming that she is all surface glamor. But as she befriends her new handmaid, Aida, and comes to learn of Radames’ betrayal, York grows to show there is something deeper to Amneris than her superficial glitter.

Radames’ father, Zoser, is conspiring to accelerate Radames’ ascension to the throne by poisoning Pharaoh (well-played by Samuel Garnett). David Wade’s Zoser is a slimy thug building his own empire. His “Another Pyramid” is well-sung with sinister undertones.

Aida is recognized by her fellow Nubian captive and Radames’ servant, Mereb, as his princess (“How I Know You”). Deimoni Brewington as Mereb is a natural comedian, but he’ll have you in tears when he sings this beautiful ballad.

Though sworn by Aida to silence, soon Mereb has rallied the Nubian captives around their princess, forcing Aida to choose between her people and her growing love for Radames. Carrington Peterson as Nehebka is a cast standout as she leads the show’s incredible chorus in the gospel-inspired “The Gods Love Nubia.” It was hard not to stand and shout in praise.

Meanwhile, Aida’s father, the Nubian king, Amonasro, has been captured by Radames’ troops, forcing Aida’s hand to rescue her father and king. In the small but pivotal role of Amonasro, Tariq James presents himself with a kingly severity.

Dance captains Cody Angelo, Terrell Armstrong, Jolie Cope and Elizabeth Cross lead the cast in Gary Kilmer’s ebullient choreography. The big production number, “Dance of the Robe,” was excitingly spontaneous.

The show’s minimalist design was enhanced by the elegant use of colorful banners and John Morris’ suggestive lighting design.

Though it’s entertainment, the play does not downplay the serious theme of suffering caused by national imperialism. It never preaches but effectively shows the degradation of human enslavement in the sorrow of a thwarted love and the beautiful sound of the united voices of the oppressed. The poignant ending leaves us with hope for a better world through the love of one young man and woman.

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