REVIEW: ‘Aida,’ A Love Story That Transcends A Hundred Lifetimes

A gorgeous and ultimately tragic story of ill-fated lovers that transcends a hundred lifetimes is the premise of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida.” Based on the opera by composer Giuseppe Verdi, the sweeping love story of epic proportions opened Moonlight Stage Productions 2017 summer season in Vista, CA, Wednesday evening to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd.

Its quite perplexing why “Aida” hasn’t been produced more by regional theatre companies, or revived on Broadway yet, as the timeless romance holds such enduring greatness for a successful artistic and commercial retelling. The relevant story alone will captivate your senses, but the overall production easily makes it one of the best shows fabricated over the past 20 years.

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Producer and choreographer, John Vaughan’s vision breathes new life to this masterpiece, which opened on Broadway back in March 2000 and ran for over 2000 performances. Music Theatre of Wichita provided the extraordinary sets & opulent costumes for this venture, which situates us back to the desolate lands of ancient Egypt, heightening the passionate tale of forbidden love by playwrights Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang.

In this production, the enslaved Nubian princess, Aida is played by the astonishing Daebreon Poiema. Aida falls in love with Egyptian army captain Radames (played here by Richard Bermudez) and the two must choose between love or to serve their own people entangled in a raging war.

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Poiema as Aida exudes confidence, poise and humility to lead her fellow-Nubian captives back to the safety of their homeland. Poiema, known most recently for portraying Delores Van Cartier in the musical-comedy, “Sister Act,” is a true testament of how well-versed of a performer she is. Her spellbinding performance in “Aida” is nothing short of riveting. Her voice – pure and compelling with a belt predestined (in the stars) to adorn the Tony & Grammy-Award winning songs, most prevalent in the uplifting and transcendental number “Gods Love Nubia” and the haunting “Elaborate Lives (Reprise).” A match made in the heavens.

In fact, the women by far dominated the stage in this production. Betsy Glaudini proved equally majestic as Egyptian princess Amneris. Her flashy, scintillating performance in “My Strongest Suit” was one of the show’s finest highlights, nothing short of spectacular. Abundant of flair and comedic insight, Glaudini also added a human touch to Amneris, resulting in a plausible friendship between herself and her gifted slave, Aida. Though, both characters yearn the affections of Radames, neither of their performances felt contrived towards each other. Emerging star, Gabrielle Jackson, who portrayed Nehebka also shines brightly as her character sacrifices her own life to save the Nubian princess in a bitterly numbing moment.

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The songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are easily one of the greatest musical compositions (alongside the duos other project – Disney’s The Lion King) and undeniably a driving force behind each scene. Each number is memorable, a rarity for any production but especially of this caliber. Musical Director & Conductor, Lyndon Pugeda does a brilliant job recreating the lush score, one of my all-time favorites since first hearing the concept album back in 1999. The orchestra certainly did not disappoint here. The show also features the hit singles “Written in the Stars” and “Easy as Life” both songs having crossed over to the pop charts, shortly after being released.

“Aida” celebrates the power of everlasting love and the virtue of the human spirit. Whether you were lucky enough to see it on Broadway or discovering it for the first time, you’ll guarantee to fall in love with the classic story, the breathtaking music and the fantastic cast (especially Poiema and Glaudini) of Moonlight Stage Productions “Aida.”

“Aida” is playing at The Moonlight Amphitheater now through July 1, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the VisTix Box Office at (760) 724-2110 or Order Online.

Photos courtesy of Ken Jacques Photography.

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