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New ‘Aida’ takes steps

Exotica doffed in overhauled show

Those in search of papier-mache sphinxes and Cleopatra headdresses will have to check out Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” now in repertory at the Metropolitan Opera.

Tuesday evening, Disney Theatricals presented a 45-minute group-sales preview of its radically retooled Elton John-Tim Rice “Aida,” to open next March at the Palace Theatre. The show’s three co-stars — Heather Headley, Adam Pascal and Sherie Rene Scott — performed songs from the musical on the stage of Disney’s Amsterdam Theater, where “The Lion King” is playing.

Hoofing steps up

Also presented were extended dance sequences featuring Wayne Cilento’s new Dunham-esque choreography. If “Contact” moves to Broadway this season, the Tonys’ choreography category next spring figures to provide the kind of battle — between “Contact’s” Susan Stoman and Cilento — that hasn’t been seen since Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett went head-to-head in the 1975-76 season with, respectively, “Chicago” and “A Chorus Line.”

Most significant, “Aida” has been given a spare, almost contempo look by director Robert Falls and designer Bob Crowley. “No more pyramids!” Falls announced from the stage of the Amsterdam. “No more men’s kneecaps!”

Skirting the issue

For some reason, bare male legs are no longer popular with the New York legit crowd, as the audience at the Amsterdam applauded its approval. Falls and Crowley evidently banished the ancient warrior skirts and other traditional Egyptian motifs that were on heavy display when Disney debuted the musical in October 1998 at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. Director Robert Jess Roth, choreographer Matt West, set designer Stanley A. Meyer and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward were then attached to the project.

When asked if he’d seen the Met Opera’s much more traditional telling of the “Aida” story, Disney Theatricals honcho Peter Schneider replied, “No, and I have no plans.” Maybe he got his fill of Elizabeth Taylor eye-paint in Atlanta.

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