Although this version of "Aida" was reportedly originally intended to become an animated Disney film, as a stage musical it keeps the tragic ending of the opera, although there is some optimistic modern framing at the start and end that suggests that the spirit of love never dies, etc.
The music is recognizably, unmistakably Elton John, with lots of his piano-led pop-rock and a variety of genre influences. It's a bit of a multicultural melting pot, with Middle Eastern and West African sounds and rhythms included as an attempt at capturing, one assumes, some sort of Ancient Egyptian and Nubian vibe. The most memorable songs include the reggae-tinged "Another Pyramid," in which the talented ensemble gets to do some fun choreography by Nicole Helfer, the catchy quartet "Not Me," and the stirring first-act-ender "The Gods Love Nubia," a rousing gospel number by Aida and her fellow Nubian slaves. Aida and Radames share a number of angsty romantic tunes and these various mid-tempo power ballads get a bit tedious, although beautifully sung by the cast.
A successful love story depends on the audience rooting for the central couple, something that is uncomfortable here due to the nature of Radames and Aida's unequal master-slave relationship. Aida remains proud, strong and in command throughout, ever the noble heroine, and Jete is wonderful in the title role, with a voice clear, pure and honey-rich. Thomas' vocals are also strong, with a certain Elton John rockstar tone at moments. Amneris, I imagine, is one of the most interesting roles to play. The character goes from naive princess presenting a vain and vapid exterior to astute adult assuming the mantle of power and becoming a wise leader over the course of the show. McGinty excels in every scene and song, from the silly — "My Strongest Suit," which mainly exists for the chance to hold an Ancient Egyptian fashion show — to the moving "I Know the Truth."
Although sound quality in the large Fox Theatre always seems to be lacking a bit in bass and clarity, the orchestra, led by Alicia Jeffrey, is excellent, as are the glitzy, campy costumes by Merissa Mann, basic but effective sets by Mark Mendelson and especially the lighting by Michael Oesch. There are some truly stunning uses of light and color over the Nile scenes evoking changes in time of day.
So, while "Aida" as musical theater might not have the immortality of some of John and Rice's other respective hits (or of Verdi's opera), Broadway by the Bay's strong cast, orchestra and overall impressive production prove it to be an engrossing and entertaining epic.
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.
When: Through Nov. 18.
Info: Go to broadwaybythebay.org.
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