Aida

Wed 13th – Sat 23rd March 2013

reviews

Emily Handley

at 00:49 on 14th Mar 2013

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Love, conflict, hope. Standard emotions on a Tuesday night in Cambridge at the end of term, you might think – you develop a sudden love for Cindies and are convinced you will have the best night out you’ve had all term. You’re conflicted between the tempting delights of Gardies and the Van of Life. And at the end of the night you’re hoping that you won’t have to drink that much alcohol again for a long time. For a more cultured night out that will deliver these emotions without an ounce of regret, consider CUADC’s new production of Aida, based on Elton John and Tim Rice’s rock musical of the same name.

John and Rice’s show, which is inspired by Verdi’s opera about the eponymous Nubian princess who is captured by soldiers and kept as a slave in Egypt, is a slick and accomplished retelling of the story. Princess Anmeris, the daughter of the king who has enslaved Aida, acts as narrator at the beginning and end of the piece, alerting the audience to the plight of the proud and beautiful Nubian royal who has been forced to enter slavery. Despite a slow start to the production, Rosalind Peters showcases talents such as her impeccable comic timing and fine singing voice in her portrayal of the spoilt Anmeris. The character’s confidence gives her some of the best comic lines in the musical, as she prepares for her upcoming wedding to Captain Radames and assures the audience that all of the decorations and flowers would be arranged, “naturally, in the shape of my face.”

Lauren Hutchinson was one of the highlights of the musical in the title role, as her versatile range and clear tone captured the anguish of the imprisoned protagonist. She is particularly impressive in Easy as Life, tackling the technical challenge of the piece with aplomb while imbuing her character with sensitivity and pathos. The bitter irony of the song’s lyrics are communicated very well by Hutchinson, whose bluesy and warm vocals graduated with ease from a soft, meditative purr to a strong and well-supported tone in Dance of the Robe. Her flawless American accent served to create yet another difference between her and the royal household which she serves.

She was complemented by Henry Jenkinson as the tormented Radames, who is torn between his promise to marry his fiancée Anmeris and his burgeoning love for Aida. Jenkinson’s powerful vocal tone and commanding presence was adjusted appropriately throughout the role, as he transformed from an arrogant ruler to a more understanding man. One of his standout turns came in Not Me, the quartet that he shares with Hutchinson, Peters and Matthew Elliot-Ripley, as former Nubian servant Mereb. The tight harmonies were also echoed in the breath-taking quality of singing in Gods Love Nubia, an ambitious and perfectly executed set piece that had the audience clamouring for more as the curtains came down for the interval.

Although the singing among the chorus members and principal roles was excellent, the choreography could have been slightly more adventurous. The dancing in the main songs was slick and imaginative however, thus ensuring that it entertained the audience without detracting from the singing. The orchestra was spirited and expressive while also being mindful of collaborating closely with the singers, which is testament to their musicianship and the control exerted by musical directors Maddie Dunnigan and Josh Roberts. Commandeered by Atri Banerjee at the helm with producers Emily Newton and Adam Smith, Aida was an extremely enjoyable evening that will provide the perfect end-of-term treat with an added dose of culture and top-quality singing.

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Jenni Reid

at 10:10 on 14th Mar 2013

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This CUADC production of Aida is a must-see for anyone who loves epic love stories, cheesy pop melodies, or North African princesses.

The musical tells the story of Radames, a commander in the Egyptian army which is at war with the smaller country of Nubia. Radames becomes enchanted by one of the women in a group of Nubians he captures and brings back to Egypt to be enslaved, who just happens to be the King’s daughter – cue a typically fast-paced, dramatic romance about which no-one is happy, from Radames’s overbearing father to his neglected fiancé.

The excellent cast and crew flirted with being of a professional standard, but were held back by a few small things. A lot of work had evidently gone into the choreography, but it was a little shaky at times, with some of the dancers notably stronger than others and some of the moves making the chorus look a little awkward. The performance as a whole lacked a certain epic quality at times; it had it in spades during the touching duets between Aida and Radames, but seemed to miss a full presence during the bigger scenes. This is perhaps a petty criticism – a student production can hardly be expected to produce a 100 man strong Egyptian army from the wings, and the harmonies during the group numbers were faultless.

The orchestra should be commended for ploughing through the show tucked away out of sight somewhere. A couple of songs seemed a little off beat and at times a rogue note was heard, but for a first night performance there was little to fault. Indeed, it wasn’t until I saw the program that I even realised it was an orchestra and not a recording.

As it should be, it was the two leads who stole the show. Lauren Hutchinson had exactly the powerful voice, stately looks and masterful stage presence needed of the titular character, Aida. She was certainly believable as a princess, keeping an appropriate grandeur at all times, but tempered this with a fiery passion for the people of Nubia and all-consuming love for Radames. Henry Jenkinson as her Egyptian lover was similarly forceful, with an incredible voice. When Aida and Radames first encountered each other I scoffed at the thought of chemistry between the two, yet as the musical went on their relationship became perfectly believable and affecting (in an over the top, musical theatre kind of way.)

Rosalind Peters developed the character of the Radames’s fiancé Amneris well, making her cliché character arc from shallow and disinterested Princess to noble and heartbroken bride fairly convincing. Early on, she delivered some of the best lines of the show and her comic timing was spot on; she has a great skill for maintaining a ‘sulky teenager’ expression and demeanour. Therefore when she stood tall and defiant whilst delivering the emotional final song (framed by fantastic lighting, I might add), the contrast from her previous self was striking.

Whilst his styling and costume were probably the best in the show, Robbie Aird didn’t quite convey the threatening presence and wickedness of Radames's father Zoser; I didn’t feel I disliked the character as much as I should have. Meanwhile, he could belt out a tune, but the pleasantness of tone (which can still be present in an unpleasant character) was missing. Nonetheless, he is clearly a talented actor and his stage fighting was great.

I won’t be listing Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical, based on Verdi’s opera of the same name, among my favourites. Personally, I felt the singing voices of this student cast were far more impressive than the songs they were actually singing. Some elements of the production might be scoffed at by the more musical-averse among us, but there is a huge amount to be enjoyed in this production. The cast and crew have evidently put a terrific amount of work in to the show, and whilst it’s not perfect, it’s safe to say their work has more than paid off.

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