Thursday, February 07, 2002

Performances carry an eye-popping, pop-rock 'Aida'

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Aida is anything to go by, The Land of the Pharoahs is a heck of a lot more fun than the Discovery Channel has led us to believe.

        The latest entry in the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati touring series is fashion statement-as-theater. It's also a show that has the attention span of a 6-year-old, but it benefits enormously from Paulette Ivory's performance. She's persuasive in the title role as a Nubian princess who sees her duty to help her people, enslaved by Egypt, even as she falls in love with her Egyptian captor Ramades (Patrick Cassidy), unhappily betrothed to Egyptian princess Amneris (Kelli Fournier).

        You'd think this would be enough for one show, and it was back when Guiseppi Verdi wrote it as an opera. But today's MTV-trained target audiences want both more — lots of busy, busy plot and ever-changing, eye-popping images — and less — emotional depth.

        What's going on? What isn't going on?

        Aida and Ramades meet cute as he captures her and her handmaidens. He's taken with her royal disdain of him even though she's going incognito. It's the stuff of paperback romance.

        Meanwhile, back at the palace, Ramades' father the minister is ambitiously poisoning the Pharoah, preparing for a no-mess takeover after the wedding.

        In another wing, Amneris is checking out her closet.

        Along with In Style, Amneris appears to have access to reruns of Will & Grace. Ms. Fournier all but channels ditzball rich girl Karen. She's a charmer, both as comedian and a girl who eventually has to grow up.

        Nobility is never the most interesting characteristic on any stage. Mr. Cassidy goes at his role heroically, but not surprisingly Ramades remains far less interesting than the two women who love him. Aida's book is simplistic, with lots of sitcom underpinnings, but nobody's really listening when there's so much great stuff to look at.

        The score is pop opera-lite, perfectly serviceable but, with the exception of Aida, too often the principal roles sing with Elton John's voice, not their own.

        He and Tim Rice have written some powerhouse numbers for their heroine that reference her culture and the oppressed and despairing condition of her people. Nobody else's songs seem to come from their particular hearts.

        Thanks to Ms. Ivory, with help from Mr. Cassidy, the tragedy of star-crossed lovers carries you along.

        In the pantheon of musical star-crossed lovers that includes South Pacific and West Side Story, Aida looks exactly like what it is — product, not art. But it comes in one gorgeous package.

        Aida, through Feb. 17, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall, 241-7469.


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