“You had me at ‘Attack.’” Crystal Evans’s Aida loves David Davila’s Radames.
It may have belonged to Verdi first, but Aida, a musical from Disney Theatrical Productions (and power duo Elton John and Tim Rice), shares a common element with another Disney musical, Beauty and the Beast. I’m talking about Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t see why Rice didn’t make the lyrics to the captive-captor theme song, “Elaborate Lives,” a little something more like this: “You enslaved me and my people and sexually harassed me / but gosh darn it, I just have to have you / true love conquers all, and that rot / I’m yours!”
Right, I guess that doesn’t rhyme.
The title character starts out as a strong-willed Nubian princess, forced to hide her identity after she and her entourage are captured by Radames, an Egyptian captain, and his army. The two countries are at war, and the Nubians are made miners and launderers in Egypt, save Aida, who, after being offered Radames’s “sword,” finds a connection with him during an impassioned conversation about Nile exploration. So he does the smooth thing and appoints her the handmaiden of his fiancée, Amneris (whose father the Pharoah is being slowly poisoned by Radames’s father, Zoser. Capisci?). Aida and Radames — shock — fall in love, a choice that leads to their mutual demise.
(But they’ll meet again as archaeologists in another life. Maybe then he can take some of her grad students hostage and refuse to free them.)
Irritating plot aside, the set of San Pedro Playhouse’s Aida is both functional and beautiful, constructed of faux sandstone blocks, giant welded pyramids (like great steel line drawings), a gorgeous nightscape, and a gargantuan, floating, golden eye of Horace (Stargate, anyone?)
Costumes, however, are a bit scattered. Someone got too excited about leopard print for the guards, Amneris and her handmaidens all wear modern Western clothes, Zoser sports an Asian-style robe, while the Pharoah looks altogether Roman. But Crystal Evans, who played Deena in Dreamgirls at San Pedro Playhouse earlier this year, rises above the musical’s problems as an absolutely magnificent Aida. Her proud physicality and passionate, muscular voice make her an addictive stage presence.
Then there’s David Davila, who possesses a bit too much stage presence as Radames. It wasn’t his acting or singing — sometimes a little off, but mostly good — but his costume. Hugh Hefner wants his PJs back, man. I don’t want to see a roll of quarters like that unless I’m at a rock concert. Wardrobe! Get this man some thicker pants!
Amneris is played more than capably by Beth Balzar, who handles her character’s transition from happy and vapid to heartbroken and sensible with ease.
In the end, I can’t help but think I must have missed the riveting part of this piece (aside from Evans’s voice, which is worth the price of admission all by itself). The theme of love crossing racial and conflict lines should have been spectacular, but it’s been done better. Frankly, the romance in Aida is about as believable as a detainee falling in love with President Bush.
Speaking of colonization, who’s up for Pocahontas?