Before there was the soulful musical version of “The Color Purple,” which was developed and originally debuted right here at the Alliance years ahead of two celebrated runs on Broadway, there was “Aida.”
Boasting a score by Elton John and Tim Rice, the pop-rock musical version of the famous Verdi opera premiered at the Alliance in 1998 (as “Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida”), and was eventually appropriated by the Disney Theatrical line to become another one of the conglomerate’s slick, homogenized Broadway blockbusters.
If your introduction to “Aida” happens to be Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s current rendition of it, you could be underwhelmed. The exotic setting is ancient Egypt, for instance, but Lee Shiver-Cerone’s scenic design seems fairly skimpy by the usual high standards of the Lyric, seldom very evocative of its time or place.
Under the static direction of Taylor Buice, the epic backdrop to its ill-fated romance somehow lacks a suitable sense of sweep or spectacle, with a game ensemble of 15 or so singers and dancers basically filling in for the proverbial cast of thousands. While they ably execute all the right moves in a few of the bigger production numbers, Bubba Carr’s choreography often feels a little languid and rarely invigorates.
A whole trio of writers (Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, David Henry Hwang) are credited for the flimsy script. And even though John and Rice won Tonys for their music and lyrics, it might be unlikely that you’ll leave the show exactly humming many of the songs (the playbill lists a whopping 18 of them, not counting various reprises).
All that said, what you will leave with is a renewed appreciation for the vocal talents of co-stars India Tyree (from Georgia Ensemble’s “Once on This Island”) and Haden Rider (Aurora/Theatrical Outfit’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) as the star-crossed lovers. She plays the regal but enslaved Nubian princess, Aida, and he’s her cocky Egyptian captor, Radames.
Music director Christian Magby’s prerecorded instrumental track may be canned, but in their respective solos (her “The Past Is Another Land” and “Easy as Life,” his “Fortune Favors the Brave”) and their duets together (“Enchantment Passing Through,” “Elaborate Lives,” “Written in the Stars”), they bring “Aida” to lilting and stirring life.
Dramatically, as written, their transition from bantering sparring partners to kindred spirits and soul mates is rather vaguely delineated. Rider’s role is mostly reduced to being a hot-headed hunk. For her part, however, Tyree invests Aida with a thoughtful and heartfelt nobility that the rest of “Aida” largely neglects.
Through no fault of her own, poor Lauren Hill (the Lyric’s “Beauty and the Beast”) has the least enviable assignment as Amneris, the Pharaoh’s nubile daughter and Radames’ longtime betrothed. In one scene, the character is a petulant brat of the comic-relief variety; in the next, she’s straight-faced and introspective; then she’s back to shrill hysterics; then back again in pensive mode.
Hill is an accomplished singer herself (note her opening solo “Every Story Is a Love Story”), but when your signature musical number in the show (“My Strongest Suit”) is gussied up as a gaudy Vegas-style extravaganza — replete with chorus girls (and boys) in mink stoles, spangled evening gowns and fringed high-heeled boots — well, what can you really do?
Through Sept. 2. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 1 only). $33-$71. Jennie T. Anderson Theatre (at the Cobb Civic Center), 548 S. Marietta Parkway, Marietta. 404-377-9948, atlantalyrictheatre.com.
Bottom line: The two co-stars outperform the rest of the show.
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