TR Robertson …The hills of Brengle Terrace were alive once again with the sounds of music as Season 37 for Moonlight Stage Productions began another season of summer musicals, this time with a musical never before staged at Moonlight. The artistic team of Moonlight has become known for not only bringing classical stage productions to the theatre, but also finding new and challenging musicals for theatre goers to enjoy. The first production for the summer is the award winning musical, “Aida”, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice from a book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang. “Aida” is a rock opera that incorporates a wide variety of musical styles as it presents a story of the power of love in life and in death.
The Moonlight production is directed by Moonlight veteran John Vaughan and Musical director/conductor Lyndon Pugeda. Colorful costuming was coordinated by Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd with elaborate wigs designed by Peter Herman. Make-up Designer Gabe Nunez and Lighting Designer Jean-Yves Tessier also added their technical skills to a wonderfully staged production.
Photos by Ken Jacques
“Aida” was nominated for 5 Tony Awards and won 4 Tony’s, winning Best Original Score, Best Actress in a Musical, Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design. The musical opened on Broadway at Palace Theatre on March 23, 2000, running for 1,852 performances until 2004. “Aida” also won a Grammy for Best Musical Show album and “Written in the Stars”, recorded by Elton John and LeAnn Rimes, reaching #2 on Billboard’s contemporary music chart.
The story of “Aida” begins in a museum displaying ancient Egyptian artifacts. We then travel back to ancient Egypt and meet Egyptian military captain Radames, who is returning from a successful war with Nubia. He has brought back captured Nubians, including a Nubian woman, Aida, who is actually a princess and the daughter of the King of Nubia. Radames conniving father, Chief Minister Zoser, has been secretly poisoning the Pharaoh in hopes his son will marry and become the Pharaoh. Radames is supposed to marry the Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris, but as fate would have it, he slowly begins to fall in love with the fiery, strong willed Aida. Aida has been given to Amneris, by Radames, as her hand maiden. But this is a love that is star-crossed, much like Romeo and Juliet, and Aida’s father is captured and sentenced to death. Aida, with the help of the Nubian slave Mereb, plot to help her father, Amonasro, escape. Meanwhile, many of the captured Nubians have found out that she is indeed the princess. While all of this is going on the Egyptian princess Amneris is slowly beginning to discover that her love for Radames is not to be and that Radames is in love with Aida. Aida convinces Radames he must marry Aida, as she plans on rescuing her father during the wedding. But, the best laid plans sometimes just don’t work out and in the planned escape Mereb is killed, Radames captured for helping Aida’s father escape and Aida captured. They are sentenced to die, but Amneris, in an act of mercy, decrees that the two lovers be placed together in a tomb to die together. Radames vows to search for a hundred lifetimes to find Aida again. The final scene is back in the museum and two figures eyes meet as they are looking at the same Egyptian statue, Radames and Aida transcending time.
A strong 25 person cast presented a lively, high energy driven performance, led by two powerful leads. Richard Bermudez, playing Radames, returns to the Moonlight, last appearing in “Titanic”. His strong, powerful voice was evident in both solo numbers and with other members of the company in numbers such as “Fortune Favors the Brave”, “Enchantment Passing Through”, “Not Me”, “Elaborate Lives” and “Radames’ Letter”. In the beautiful, “Written in the Stars”, sung with Daebreon Poiema, who plays Aida, who has an equally strong and powerful voice, both leads show off their tremendous range. Daebreon Poiema also had numerous opportunities to show her emotion in a number of songs, but the one that brought audience members to their feet was the final song in Act I, a gospel like “The Gods Love Nubia”. Poiema is another Moonlight veteran, last seen in “Sister Act”. The chemistry between Bermudez and Poiema was evident from the first time we see them on stage until the final tender scene of Radames and Aida together in their tomb, then the chance meeting in the museum.
Another Moonlight veteran, Bets Malone, played Amneris, and once again brought a wonderful comic interpretation to her character, but she also brought a humanity to the part as Amneris went through a range of emotional changes in Act II. Malone and Poiema sang a moving “My Strongest Suit” and Malone both began and ended the musical with “Every Story is a Love Story”. Making his debut at Moonlight and showing another strong voice in his role as Radames father, Zoser, was Bill Ledesma. He brought a sinister look and attitude to the role. Morie Williams, playing Aida’s father Amonasro, had a booming voice, especially directed at Aida when he discovered she was involved with Radames. Two other actors who stood out in several numbers were Gabrielle Jackson, as Nehebka one of the Nubian slaves, and Terrance Spencer, as Mereb, the slave closest to Radames. The large Moonlight Ensemble for this production complimented the leads and handled the various musical variations of the songs with ease. An audience favorite was the dance routine, a little stylized hip-hop, to “Another Pyramid” by Zoser and the Ministers.
“Aida” has gone through a number of interpretations. First, as an opera written by Giuseppe Verdi, written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal and a new opera house in Cairo. It premiered in 1871. Then in the mid-1990’s, Disney Studios had had a very successful animated movie, “The Lion King”, and were considering the story of Aida as a possible animated movie to follow “The Lion King”. Elton John, who had worked on “The Lion King”, felt the story would be a perfect live stage musical production. The rest is history and those that have seen the musical are glad John and Rice got together to create this award winning musical.
“Aida” will run at the Moonlight Amphitheatre until July 1. Tickets range from $23 to $55 for all reserved seating and $17 to $22 for general lawn seating. Tickets can be purchased at www.moonlightstage.com or call 760-724-2110. The Artisan Café at Moonlight offers pre-show dining. The rest of the Moonlight season will consist of “The Little Mermaid” July 19-August 5, “Sunset Boulevard” August16-September 2, and “In the Heights” September 13-30.