Strong cast props up wobbly ‘popera’ at Arvada Center |

Strong cast props up wobbly ‘popera’ at Arvada Center

Alex Miller
Special to the Daily/P. Switzer Not exactly Polonius: Darrel Blackburn as Zoser gives some unsavory advice to his son Radames (Peter James Zielinski) in the Arvada Center's production of "AIDA."

Not being familiar with the source material, I was prepared for anything when going to see the Arvada Center’s new production of “Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida.”It was still surprising, though, to encounter a mish-mash of all kinds of forbidden love-style stories, and not much more. Based on Verdi’s opera “Aida,” the Elton John and Tim Rice version is full of fluffy pop songs, not one of which I could remember the moment I left the theater. Although that’s typically not a good sign, the plus side is that, for the most part, the songs were enjoyable enough during their performance, and the cause was aided mightily by a first-rate production by the Arvada Center that nearly contended the kind of work being done by its cross-town rival at the Denver Center.

The story is a typical love triangle with a couple of twists. We’re in Egypt, and Aida is a Nubian princess (black, good) captured by troops commanded by Egyptian prince Radames (white, not so good but showing promise). Radames is betrothed to princess Amneris (white, not so good but also potentially redeemable) – a marriage arranged by his perfectly evil father Zoser and Amneris’ dad, the Pharaoh, who’s being slowly poisoned by Zoser.His curiosity piqued by Aida’s spunk – apparently becoming a slave to the Egyptians gets her hackles up – Radames starts to have second, third and even fourth doubts about his pending nuptials. Sure, he likes Amneris fine, but more like a sister, and the notion of ascending to the throne some day doesn’t appeal to his more adventuresome nature, which typically involves long trips to kill Nubians.Suffice to say that Radames and Aida hook up, Amneris feels bad, his allegiance is swayed and tragedy on several levels ensues. All this and more is set to lively dance numbers that range from a doo-wop bath scene with Amneris (never will you see more inventive use of towels) to, my favorite, several pieces with Zoser and his eight-member cadre of black-clad ministers. Despite a tortured bookend device that assures us the lovers will be together forever, the story itself is harmless enough, albeit tremendously silly and cliched. The forces of good and evil have it out, love triumphs at last and the only real loser is poor Amneris, who ends up being surrounded by corpses.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a play or musical as bad as “Aida” that I enjoyed quite so much, and that’s primarily because of the production itself. Arvada put together a top-notch cast, including Soara-Joye Ross as Aida, Peter James Zielinski as Radames and Julie Reiber as Amneris. I was particularly taken by Reiber’s portrayal of the princess, which veers from spoiled egomaniac to queen-apparent with some heavy decisions to make. Her bold voice and strong stage presence is a must to counter-balance the same level of skill coming from Ross, a mere slip of a woman with a voice the size of Africa.The sets, the costumes, the sound and the lighting are all first-rate in Arvada’s “Aida” – exhibiting a level of detail and professionalism not typically seen in smaller theaters. As a package, “Aida” lifts the Arvada Center even higher in the Denver theater pecking order and establishes it as a viable venue for large-scale productions. Plus, the parking’s free.Bottom line: If you like musicals and are willing to let slide a fair amount of hokiness in favor of some truly exceptional performances, check out “Aida.”

Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or, Colorado

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