A contemporary version of “Aida,” the 1871 Verdi opera about the doomed love of an enslaved Ethiopian princess and the Egyptian general who conquered her people, is very much on the front burner as the Disney musical that will reopen the New Amsterdam Theater in 1997.
Disney’s “Aida” will “clearly not be Verdi’s opera,” says Disney Theatricals head Robert McTyre. Disney bought the rights to a children’s book about “Aida” written by diva Leontyne Price, and a treatment was written by “Beauty and the Beast” librettist Linda Woolverton. Now “Lion King” song team Tim Rice and Elton John have begun work on the score, though Rice has more pressing demands at the moment, with the score of Disney’s next animated feature, “King David,” which he’s writing with Alan Menken. “Beauty and the Beast” director Robert Jess Roth is also working on “Aida.”
McTyre says that while “Aida” is currently the leading candidate to open the New Amsterdam, several other projects are heating up, and no decision will be made before a reading in October.
“Aida” surfaced on Broadway once before, in the 1952 flop “My Darlin’ Aida,” which transposed the opera from ancient Memphis, Egypt, to Civil War-era Memphis, Tenn., and tacked new lyrics onto Verdi’s music. Of course, another updated opera, Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” has found considerably more success as “Miss Saigon.”
Will Disney’s “Aida” be the first Broadway show since “Jumbo” 60 years ago at the Hippodrome to feature an elephant in the cast?
“I hope not,” says McTyre. “I’ve worked with elephants before, and they’re tough.”