Aida

With a trio of principals whose types and talents closely mirror the original Broadway stars, along with expensive, portable versions of Bob Crowley's deliciously anachronistic designs, the very solid road version of "Aida" reflects Disney Theatricals' usual concern for quality and integrity.

With:
Aida - Simone Radames - Patrick Cassidy Amneris - Kelli Fournier Nehebka - Merle Dandridge Mereb - Jacon R. Wilkerson Zoser - Neal Benari Pharaoh - Mark La Mura Amonasro - Jerald Vincent

With a trio of principals whose types and talents closely mirror the original Broadway stars, along with expensive, portable versions of Bob Crowley’s deliciously anachronistic designs, the very solid road version of “Aida” reflects Disney Theatricals’ usual concern for quality and integrity.

This stylistic hybrid will never be a massive sit-down sensation — it tends to impress rather than overwhelm mainstream auds. But despite the slightly smaller company, the folks in the seats will be able to see the money up onstage. And there’s so much vocal heft on display here, the biggest hinterland barn will be filled with rousing, tuneful sound.

Despite the show’s Broadway success, road marketers probably will have to work a little harder on this one than they expected. Based on several overheard conversations in St. Louis, local subscribers knew precious little about the nature — or the tortured genesis — of what they were about to see. But by the end of “The Gods Love Nubia,” a vague but pervasive sense of confused bewilderment seemed to have morphed into general approval.

The real smash of the night here is Kelli Fournier’s terrific Amneris (the best role in the show). Fournier’s distinctive take is an impressive mix of dizziness, pain and sardonic wit. Considerably darker than Sherie Rene Scott in the same part, Fournier offers a simpler but rich and musically superb performance of “I Know the Truth,” the best ditty in the show.

Simone (the daughter of chanteuse Nine Simone and a former Mimi in “Rent”) lacks the charming effervescence of Heather Headley, even if some of her line readings as so close, you’d swear she’s been watching a tape. But Simone’s earthier, feistier princess gets a lot madder a lot faster, which gives the show more weight and makes sense, given the atrocities she has to suffer. Simone also has sterling vocal chops and she pushes the role closer to R&B. It’s a big performance.

Compared with Adam Pascal, the more genial and less edgy Patrick Cassidy goes in the opposite direction. With a style and ease rooted in traditional musical comedy forms rather than rock, Cassidy is a sweeter, warmer, more emotional and flightier presence, and his impetuous disposal of all his worldly goods seems less absurd now. Nonetheless, he feels like a lightweight dude who’s not entirely capable of persuading such an angry young princess to trash her father and her homeland.

Director Robert Falls has found a young supporting cast. That creates some absurdly youthful-looking fathers (and necessarily broad acting), but it makes for a lively and intensely committed ensemble who give this tour plenty of sass and style, especially in its big ensemble numbers.

All in all, this is a bankable single-week or deuce anchor to any subscription docket.

Aida

Fox Theater, St. Louis; 4,500 Seats; $75 Top

Production: A Disney Theatrical Prods. presentation of a musical in two acts with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, book by Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang. Directed by Falls.

Creative: Choreography, Wayne Cilento. Sets and costumes, Bob Crowley; lighting, Natasha Katz; sound, Steve C. Kennedy; musical director, Steven Cosmo Mallardi; musical supervision, Paul Bogaev; production stage manager, Jill B. Gounder. Reviewed April 28, 2001. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast: Aida - Simone Radames - Patrick Cassidy Amneris - Kelli Fournier Nehebka - Merle Dandridge Mereb - Jacon R. Wilkerson Zoser - Neal Benari Pharaoh - Mark La Mura Amonasro - Jerald VincentWith: Robert M. Armitage, Rochelle Aytes, Iresol L. Cardona, Eric L. Christian, Anika Ellis, Tim Hunter, John Jacquet Jr., Allison Thomas Lee, Bradley Jay Madison, Ted Napolitano, Natasha Neary, Kristen Oei, Keenah Reid, Alexander Selma.

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