THE STARS OF THE OAKLAND SUNSET MAKE THIS EGYPTIAN LOVE STORY A PERFECT WAY TO END YOUR SUMMER
Culture Clash is Elton John and Tim Rice musical version of AIDA, a pop rock musical based on Giuseppe Verdi classic opera. Woodminster Summer Musicals closes out their 49th season with an Egyptian desert transformed on the Oakland stage. Director Joel Schlader does a handsome job with his talented cast, "We think our audiences will love this show. It's a big, epic story with lots of compelling characters in thrilling situations. And Elton John's music is a wonderful pastiche of different musical styles ranging from pop to gospel to African and Indian." AIDA won four Tony awards in 2000 and since then is not performed as often as other Tim Rice productions, Woodminster outdoor venue is a perfect stage to see this story performed.
Verdi's Italian Opera, based on Egyptologist Auguste Mariette's story which is based on William Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” is a love story. The Egyptian tale of an Arabic captain who brings back Nubian slaves from war and discovers one of them is the princess of the Nubian king. The love triangle between Aida, Princess Amneris and Captain Radames is the main element and the passion makes this musical a wonderful love story.
Composer Elton and lyricist Rice are inspired by the exotic setting and not much about the arch of a plot (the book is by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang). The music style moves from pop to rock to ballads and there are some outstanding performances. The cast includes 35 performers, Aida is played by the talented Majesty Scott with a voice so powerful and the affability to handle the full range of a demanding vocal score. Scott also brings strong emotion to the role and filled the amphitheatre with her amazing voice in “Easy as Life” and “The Past is Another Land”. James Bock, as Radames, has an excellent voice and rouses his troops in the song “Fortune Favors the Brave”.
Engaged to Radames Egyptian princess Amneris, played by Megan Gallup who opens the story in a present day museum and manages to have fun as the self-absorbed to be Queen. Gallup has the right voice to go from Eltons pop numbers “My Strongest Suit” performed on a fashion runway, to her ballad “Every Story is a Love Story”. The Nubian King of the tale, Zoser is played by the talented Calvin Smith, (who just got rave reviews for his performance as Roger DeBris in The Producers) who has engaging stage timing in this role. Dan Kapler is excellent as the Pharaoh, the Nubian slaves Mereb and Nehebka are played by Rotimi Agbabiaka and Linda Dorsey. "Dance of the Robe" Dorsey shines and is always marvelous on the Oakland stage. The standout ensemble number “The Gods Love Nubia” was sung soulfully and each actor was at 100% and gave it their all. The female ensemble including Simmone Miller, JiYun Kim, Rotimi Agbabiaka, Haile Wayne, Tierra Allen, Vida Fernandez, Megan Sandoval and Barbara De Veaux-Griffith do an excellent job in “My Strongest Suit”. Other stand out moments include some important mentions to Woodminster regulars who did amazing work in all three musicals this season, they include Rod Voltaire Edora, Jose Gonzales, Max DeSantis, Todd Schlader, Darryl Williams and Sebastian Romeo.
Judy Jaron’s choreography is entertaining, the tribal movements in “Dance of the Robe”, featured stunning flow by the Ensemble. A show stopper is Lisa M. Danz costumes, the high light opens the act with the fashion show at the Docks featuring some over the top gowns. Danz did the same magic for “The Producers” this season, she created the exotic costumes for “Springtime for Hitler” earlier this summer. The design for Amneris look is excellent, along with the browns and tans of the Nubian cast and Amonasro’s colorful romps. Lighting designer Jon Gourdine needed to create some exotic lights for some of the more pop effects of the show and at times brings an impressive “rave” look to the desert. Robert Bo Golden set is based on the desert tan theme with rolling pyramids and statues that work well, but his backdrop seems off the mark, yet the blue touch adds some color. Michael Horsley twelve piece orchestra has to produce at times the electric sound of Elton songs and they hit the mark.
The love triangle of AIDA an Egyptian and Nubian tale is a perfect way to end your theatre going summer in the Oakland hills. Woodminster Summer Musicals continues its "kids come free" program for children 16 or younger who attend the shows with paying adults. For its 50th season next summer, the company plans to present "Chicago" in August and "Into the Woods" in September; the show that will open their 50th year has not yet been selected. Follow their web site this fall and don't miss this Egyptian love story and wonderful cast.
Music by Sir Elton John
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Wolverton
Directed by Joel Schlader, Music Direction by Michael Horsley
Choreographed by Jody Jaron, Costumes by Lisa M Danz
Now through September 13, 2015
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road
Photos Courtesy of Kathy Kahn