2005 Season

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The Long Island Advance:


It's sorta tragic how Aida and her guy ...


July 8, 2005

What a way to go: buried alive with your lover. Yeah, those opera geeks sure knew how to party. But in its Disney-fication of the Verdi masterpiece, Broadway's "Aida" tries to turn suffocating for love into tragic-lite. Kind of like Elton John did for Marilyn Monroe after she, you know, then rewrote it for Princess Di. I mean, "Bambi" was a tragedy, too. But it's not like you're voted off the island or anything.

And that's just the trouble with "Aida," as told in song by Elton John and Tim Rice. It's as if Paul McCartney had written "Silly Love Songs" for a musical version of "Medea." The John-Rice team should've quit while they were ahead, writing music for cartoons. Brilliantly. "The Lion King" is much more their speed.

That said, you could do a lot worse than the courageous face Gateway Playhouse puts on this bastardization of the classic opera. For starters, artistic director Robin Joy Allan chose fresh-faced, fresh-voiced unknowns as the doomed lovers. And director Matt Lenz gets them to project dignity amid all the indignity this musical heaps on them.

Idara Victor in the title role and Nicholas Belton, as Radames, the militarist who captured and enslaved the Nubian princess on his campaign down the Nile, give us reason to stick around to the bitter end, which has been unnecessarily sweetened. It's complicated how Nubian slave and Egyptian master fall in love hard enough to volunteer to forgo oxygen. But in the Broadway version, blessedly 90 minutes and two acts shorter than the one you might catch at the Met, Radames appears to be motivated by revulsion over his betrothed's materialism. It seems Princess Amneris, played by a Madonna-inspired Elizabeth Stanley, has a weakness for fabric, though she loves nothing better than to unveil to her undies. (Bet you didn't know the Egyptians invented the bra.) Whatever, Amneris' "Strongest Suit" pun of a number is one of the show's cleverest, and she delivers it with comic-stripper gusto.

As Aida, Victor sounds like royalty with her commanding alto, especially in a rousing a cappella on "The Gods Love Nubia." Belton, unfortunately, never gets to sing anything worth remembering, though we do remember he has the voice to deliver whatever gibberish he's given. Darren Matthias as Radames' scheming dad looks no more Egyptian than Yul Brynner looked Siamese. But no matter; he's a swell villain. Alexander Cassell as Aida's plucky countryman is plenty plucky, and J. Bernard Calloway as the Nubian king is very James Earl Jones.

Andrew Graham leads the orchestra in a heroic rendition of John's turgid score, while Kelly Tighe's set evokes the open aridity of a desert nation...

AIDA. Long Island premiere of the musical based on Verdi's opera; music by Elton John; lyrics, Tim Rice. Gateway Playhouse at Patchogue Theater, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue, through July 23. Tickets, $33-$39; 631-286-1133. Seen opening night Wednesday.

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.