Starlight gave up fighting the heat this week, opening the Elton John-Tim Rice, Disney opus AIDA at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (now through Sunday, August 12).
It’s a great production, well-cast and beautifully sung.
Better yet, there are no bugs to swat or sweat to wipe.
Call it Starlight Chillin.
When Starlight hired producer Denton Yockey, it brought in a guy with some serious musical theater background. The shows he’s put together since he took over– ANYTHING GOES and KING & I jump to mind- have been just as strong as the national tours Starlight presents.
Actually, Starlight’s own productions are often better, since they don’t rely on the usual touring sets that get lost out there on that vast stage.
So kudos once again to Mr Yockey for mounting a very good AIDA at the Kauffman.
Moving indoors, Starlight audiences finally get a blackout when the scene’s supposed to end (it doesn’t get dark at Starlight until 9pm, which accounts for actors scurrying off when we’re not supposed to see them).
At the top of the “to be praised” list for this AIDA– any AIDA for that matter– are the three characters caught up in the love triangle that Verdi fashioned way back in 1871 (a French Egytopologist wrote the book, according to Wikipedia). Zakiya Young in the eponymous roll is simply amazing- strong, assured, but helpless when she falls in love with Mr Wrong. It’s a great part written for a strong performer and Ms Young gets it all.
Less meaty but with a really great arc is Amneris, spurned princess of Egypt. Chelsea Packard is more than Ms Young’s match, morphing gracefully yet believably from fashion ditz to wise-beyond-her-years reluctant leader.
Packard understudied Elphaba (the Kristin Chenoweth role) in WICKED on Broadway and has played the tour. She reminded me of that elfin actress a few times, but always with a bigger heart (maybe it’s the part).
Paul Nolan, fresh from playing the Big Guy himself in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on Broadway, does his best volleying with Chelsea and Zakiya, but I’m afraid this is the chicks’ show. It doesn’t help that he looks like he wandered into one of their dressing rooms for his outfits.
Did Denton miss Seinfeld’s puffy shirt episode?
The ensemble desport themselves effectively, though I thought Michelle Lynch‘s choreography was a little thin (I’ve seen and admired her work on several other projects, so I was a bit disappointed). The guys came off a little fey for Egpytian warriors (maybe don’t ask, don’t tell is older than we thought).
Anthony Edwards did a splendid job directing the vocalists and conducting the Starlight orchestra. Mark Madama‘s direction got the job done; though I can’t forgive him for mucking up Amneris’s great “reveal” in Act 2. That’s an “ah-ha” moment that shouldn’t be missed.
Lighting, sound, set and costumes were all up to Starlight standards (and you could actually see them at the Kauffman).
Sir Elton and Sir Tim wrote a hell of a great musical here, though it was initially spurned by a jealous New York theater scene, which failed to even nominate the show for a Best Musical Tony– for shame. I especially admire Rice’s lyrics. Smart here, touching there,
he’s the closest thing we’ve got to an Oscar Hammerstein– poetry come to life onstage. Can you tell I’m a fan?
And did I mention the weather (indoors) was the best Starlight has had this sweltering summer?
See AIDA at the Kauffman before they make you go back to Swope Park and sweat.
Photographs by Bob Compton/ Starlight Theatre