Aida at Queen's Hall

Love bores through the ages
Review and photographs by Mark Lyndersay.
A review of Aida, presented by Must Come See Productions at Queen's Hall. Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on July 07, 2010.

Tramaine Lamy as the Nubian slave princess performs the gospel flavoured Dance of the Robe in the Must Come See Production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.
Depending on how interested you might be in an Egyptian love triangle fantasy, Aida premiered first in 1871 and again in 1998. The first production was written by Giussepe Verdi and made its debut in Cairo, the second was an adaptation by Elton John and Tim Rice that “disneyfied” an already sappy love story into a popular production that made Trini Heather Headley a star while curiously spawning few memorable hits. It was, in short, no Verdi, but it isn’t particularly good Elton John or Tim Rice either.
The end result is particularly disappointing to me after growing up deeply influenced by the lyrics of Rice, who wrote Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chess with the male half of Abba.
Since hooking up with Disney, his output has been alarmingly sweet, stripped of his wry ear for a bittersweet turn of phrase and the appreciation for the politics of reality that so lifted those three seminal works.
The Must Come See Production of Aida is a game effort at reproducing a theatrical experience that depends heavily on big spending on clever mechanical sets and elaborate costuming.
The gap between spirit and financial reality comes through clearly in the latter half of the second act, which sets aside musical inventiveness and indeed, singing for the most part, for a wedding intended to be a spectacle, a dramatic escape and a tragic dénouement.
As a musical work, it essentially collapses here and gives the production over to the director, set designer and special effects crew. As a local production, it stumbles through the clumsy words and staging, provoking titters from an audience who happily enjoyed the back to back singing of the first act.
When Aida clicks, and it does all the way through to the intermission, it soars on the backs of its three enthusiastic lead singers and a competent band that efficiently executes a score from Elton John that liberally raids Motown and the Aretha Franklin songbook for its inspiration.
The plum songs belong to Aida (Tramaine Lamy) and, in duets, Radames (Elliot Francis), but Kendra Sylvester, playing the jilted Amneris brings such good humour and spunk to her role that she yanks the stage away from the engrossed lovers every chance she gets.
Sylvester’s angry pouting and knowing glances at the audience as she sings Rice’s best work in the show prove far more rewarding than the syrupy fawning required of Aida and Radames.
Other delights offered by the show include Justin Zephryine’s confident assaying of the young slave Mereb and Keegan Miguel, who stepped deftly past an unfortunate speaking tic to sing Zoser’s arbitrarily reggae influenced Another Pyramid.
And then there’s that uniquely Trinidadian moment as Aida drops her sword in the face of overwhelming Egyptian odds and with a contemptuous shake of her hips, lets loose with a clearly heard steups.
Another, quite choreographed movement wasn’t quite as successful, as the dancers struggled with choreographer Adele Bynoe’s old-school skanking steps for Another Pyramid. The dancers followed the direction but didn’t seem to understand the spirit of the movements.
The production suffered throughout with lethargic follow spot work, which was occasionally quite disturbing given Knolly Whiskey’s brooding spotlighting of much of the performance, and the sets seemed troublingly shaky.
Aida proved to be an entertaining, if shallow evening’s entertainment, but most of the blame for that I lay on the inexplicably uncatchy score by Elton John and the timid lyrics by Tim Rice, which only flirt with the deeper issues raised by the show before running back into the arms of love, love, love.
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