Duty versus desire


Casey Elliott belts it out as <i>Aida</i>‘s leading man, Radames.

Casey Elliott belts it out as Aida‘s leading man, Radames.

Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts

100 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89501

(775) 686-6600

Love triangles never get old, and love across the tracks has long been a staple of animated blockbusters, not to mention Shakespeare.

Sticking with that formula is Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, a rocked up, Disneyfied version of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1871 opera of the same name.

The Broadway production is coming to Reno’s Pioneer Center this weekend.

When Aida debuted in 2000, the New York Times called it “a Disney cartoon pretending to be a Broadway musical.” The show’s appeal was largely due to the acting and vocal strength of its performers. (That, and all of those Elton John fans out there.) It went on to win four Tony Awards that year.

Leading up the cast in this touring production are Marja Harmon in the title role; Casey Elliott as Radames, captain of the Egyptian army; and Leah Allers as Amneris, the Egyptian princess he’s expected to marry.

The show opens in a modern-day museum, then transitions into ancient Egypt. The Egyptian army, with Radames at its head, captures a group of Nubian women. Among them is Aida, with whom he becomes mesmerized, unaware that she is a Nubian princess. He sends her as a handmaiden to Amneris. Meanwhile, the Pharaoh is dying. A marriage with the Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris, means Radames would take the throne. Forbidden love, conflicting loyalties and tragedy ensue.

“I think [Aida] has a lot of things applicable to many people,” says Elliott via telephone from Fresno, Calif., where the cast had just wrapped up a show. “Just human emotions. Everyone at one point has been in a situation of duty versus desire. I think we’re constantly faced with that in our lives.”

Then there’s the music. With a live orchestra driving the sound, the score brings in reggae, R&B, gospel, rock, touches of African and Middle Eastern sounds and the kind of pop ballads one would expect from Elton John.

“When you have subject matter when stakes are this high and love this passionate, the music is going to portray that,” says Elliott. “It did in the opera, and I think it does it in this. I think that’s moving to people.”

He claims that even opera fans “love it,” but he adds that this show isn’t comparable to opera—it’s a rock-pop musical focused on creating good entertainment.

The original Broadway production’s set was grandiose and almost light-show-like. The touring Aida is a more stripped-down version of that. Elliott describes it as having a “stainless steel kind of look.” The lighting bounces off the reflective set. “It still has enough spectacle to feel like a big Broadway show, but it’s very simplistic,” he says.

Many are surprised to find modern-day elements drip into the ancient Egyptian scene, says Elliott. The soldiers, for example, are armed with guns and dressed in trench coats.

“One of the points the original director made was the show should feel like a dream,” explains Elliott. “It could take place at the banks of the Nile or at any other time or place.