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Aida the Musical
By Sep 27, 2008 Stage


The latest Tony-award winner to hit town, Aida, carries with it the heavy burden of high expectation, surging relentlessly as it does from the minds of the men behind the music of The Lion King, Tim Rice and Elton John.

Based on the Verdi opera, this pop musical production of Aida is far removed from its operatic origins to serve as a re-visting for the duo of Lion King-type balladry and Africa-ish adult contemporary rock. With a fairly straight-forward star-crossed lovers story, and not much plot -- or acting -- to get in the way of the incessantly lamenting, gut-busting love songs, Aida appeals to a mass audience in the way, say, a musical about segregation and TV cult culture set in 1960s Baltimore cannot. It's a straight up Elton John concert, featuring his Disney material (the "songs for dead blonds" type stuff), packaged in a straight forward, era-spanning love story.

Although the production is book-ended in the present by two museum scenes, the majority of the action takes place in ancient Egypt. Nubian princess Aida is captured and forced into slavery by the Egyptian prince Radames, who is betrothed to Pharaoh's daughter. Radames' respect for Aida's courage under hardship eventually blossoms into love, which she, of course, requites. When her father, the King of Nubia is captured and sentenced to death, Radames must choose between his country and his true love, Aida.

Despite transpiring in ancient Egypt, the set, costumes, and book are a sort of arbitrary amalgamation between that time period and the present -- prison guards carry AK-47s, yet fight with swords -- and the comedic elements of the production take their cues from the present (there is a joke about the thread count of Egyptian fabrics).

The idea here, of course, is that love is eternal. And slavery = bad.

But that's all really quite secondary to the songs of Elton John and Tim Rice, which although are stylistically varied -- a Motown number here, a reggae number there -- they defiantly don't short you on the trademark Elton John piano pop rock of recent years, or the overblown Disney balladry of The Little Mermaid, Mulan, and... The Lion King.

Too much of that maybe. Sometimes Aida seems a bit gratuitous in the way the standard Disney movie does: the characters are compelled to launch into some fantastically over-wrought barn-burned ballad with little cause or reason. She wants a new dress? Does she have to sing a whole six-minute song about that? Really?

Of course, it is what it is, and it defiantly has its powerful (Disney) moments to temper its bland (Disney) moments. Aida delivers for fans of Disney pop musicals, Disney in general, Elton John, Walt Disney, or anyone looking for a little innocuous Broadway on a Shanghai stage.

The show runs until October 12. Tickets are available here.


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