With Egypt’s recent political unrest emblazoned across the headlines, Elton John’s and Tim Rice’s rock adaptation of the classic Verdi opera seems like a timely production. This romantic tale of a love doomed from the start features soaring ballads, comic moments, inspired choreography and enough visual spectacle for three shows. But the book and the score fail to sustain the mood of a tragic love story.
Jim Corti’s talented cast is led by beautiful Stephanie Umoh, Sarah in Broadway’s recent revival of “Ragtime.” As Aida, the captured Nubian princess forced to become handmaiden to Amneris, Pharaoh's spoiled daughter (stylishly played by Erin Mosher), Umoh fills the Drury Lane stage with grace and a gorgeous voice. Torn by her anguish for the enslaved Nubian people and her love for Radames, the young captain of the Egyptian army (talented Jared Zirilli), Aida’s torment is mirrored by her lover’s plight. Radames’ betrothal to Amneris and his political life torture his very existence as his love for Aida grows.
The problem with this musical is that the book lacks focus while Elton John’s (Tony winning) eclectic score wanders everywhere. Just as you become invested in these star-crossed lovers the mood abruptly changes. Sir Elton’s melodies, ranging from reggae to African rhythms, from modern ballads to mid-60’s pop, takes us all over instead of drawing us deeper into the plot. Amneris’ rocking “My Strongest Suit,” for example, suddenly interrupts the story with a Motown-inspired fashion show. The result is a staccato story that struggles to emotionally involve its audience.
An inventive set of roving pyramids, gorgeous costumes, stunning voices and athletic Egyptian choreography make this production feel more like a beautifully produced Elton John concert than a musical.