Aida bursts onto the Reston Community Players’ stage in an explosion of color and sound. With music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, this show, directed here by Andrew JM Regiec, seems almost too timely despite having been written over a decade ago. Aida, whose book was penned by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang, draws its inspiration from the Verdi opera of the same name.
We open in Egypt. It is here that the Nubians have been brought to serve as slaves to the Egyptians, who invaded and ripped them from their homeland. Among these slaves is the Nubian princess Aida, played by Tara Lynn Yates-Reeves, whose fierce yet hesitant demeanor draws the attention of the Egyptian Captain Radames, played by Brett Harwood. Radames, in a way, is also not a free man, having been betrothed for nine years to the precocious Egyptian princess Amneris, played by Claire O’Brien Jeffrey. When sparks fly between the enslaved Aida and Captain Radames, the complications of their love affair give way to a tale that is both hopeful and tragic.
Tara Lynn Yates-Reeves is stunning as Aida. Her conviction in playing this character is obvious: she is, at times, strong, frightened, proud, defiant, and gentle- and convincingly so. She carries the ensemble numbers particularly well. “The Gods Love Nubia,” which is placed at the end of the first act, was an emotional moment which, in spirit, felt like a transformed anthem for today’s Black Lives Matter movement. We should not be afraid of drawing these connections, as art communicates to us within our current context as well as within the context in which it was created, and Tara Lynn delivers this art with aplomb. Her rendition of “Easy as Life” was also a high point, showcasing both her acting and vocal skills.
As Amneris, Claire O’Brien Jeffrey is the first to set the scene. Claire has a near-perfect handle on comedic timing, as evidenced in the big “runway” number “My Strongest Suit.” As Radames, Brett Harwood does bring an Adam Pascal-esque edge to the role, both vocally and in his looks. Each turns in spirited performances, though I felt they could have leaned in to the roles a bit more. The talent was there and neither should be afraid to let it shine.
Of note was Paul Tonden’s role as Zoser, the scheming Chief Minister and father of Radames. “Another Pyramid,” in this production, was a crowd-pleaser, and I found myself drawn in by Paul’s energy and enthusiasm.
“Written in the Stars” claimed its place as the show-stopping duet between Aida and Radames. Their vocal skills were complementary and I was convinced by their performance, more so than I was for the first act’s “Elaborate Lives.” Aida does not have any musically weak or boring numbers and the actors rightfully earned a standing ovation for their- very obvious- hard work and passion.
What absolutely blew me away in this production was the set design, also by Director Andrew JM Regiec with Dan Widerski. The set pieces evoked the feeling of ancient Egypt without being overbearing or trite. The fact that they had so many moving parts, which changed for almost every number, was very much above-and-beyond the call of duty. It was colorful. It was fun, and the opening of the second act had me floored as they successfully shifted their palette to fit the darker tone.
Costume Designer Charlotte Marson delivered flash and pizazz for “My Strongest Suit,” which, for me, took on flavors of Ru Paul’s Drag Race quite effectively. The costuming for the rest of the show was fantastic and matched the strength of the set design. Lighting Designers Ken and Patti Crowley gave Aida a soft glow for romantic scenes, rays of sunlight, and darkness when the characters experienced a tragic moment. The spotlights were a bit overused and detracted somewhat from the natural feel of the other lighting design, but this is a minor complaint.
Coreographer Andrea Cook’s work is ambitious, but really shines in the ensemble numbers. Conductor Elisa Rosman leads the enthusiastic orchestra which provides the necessary music for this musical.
Reston Community Players’ Aida is a captivating romantic tragedy that delights and entertains. The emotional aspects of the musical which relate to current social justice movements- Aida and the Nubian’s strength under oppression, racism, and turmoil- are an obvious draw. For those who like romance, the love story between Radames and Aida will not disappoint. The action and comedy elements, along with the flashy set and costume design, will keep young and old enthralled to the end. This is a musical you will not want to miss.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission.
Aida, produced by the Reston Community Players, plays through November 11, 2017 on the CenterStage at Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (703) 476-4500 or online.
Special Offer: RCP is offering a special promotion for the Friday, October 27 performance – use the password “NUBIA” at the box office to receive $10 tickets. This promotional offer is only good for tickets purchased in person at the box office or by phone at 703-476-4500 x3