Players by the Sea is celebrating summer by staging a rock ‘n roll version of a timeless love story. Elton John’s “Aida” is presented July 17-31 and Aug 1-8 on the theater’s Main Stage. Based on the book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, Aida is directed by Bradley Akers. Music is under the direction of Zeek Smith with choreography by Nichole Ignacio.
Originally written by Giuseppe Verdi, Aida was first performed as an Italian-language opera in 1871. The evolution to the Broadway stage was led by Elton John and Tim Rice in March, 2000. The PBTS production honors the story by sticking to the words and music as they were written, whether it’s Verdi’s triumphant four-act opera or the modern two-act musical.
“The script does that on its own. Having lived with this show for so long and wanting to direct this show, I’ve done a lot of research about how other productions that use the opera and how others have not” according to Akers.” A group of masterminds developed this script so they already did the work. They pulled what they took from [the original opera], what they wanted from it and they laid that into the text so if you do the show how it is written, you already paid tribute.”
Aida is the story of a Nubian princess who is captured by an Egyptian captain, Radames. He falls in love with her and saves her from a life of hard labor by giving her as a handmaiden to the Egyptian princess Amneris, his future bride. With themes including loyalty, responsibility, betrayal and love, this story forces the characters to make difficult choices that alter history forever.
The title character Aida is played by Kerry Alexander. Devin Reardon plays the role of Radames and Sadie La Manna is Amneris. The cast also features Harrison Breault, Willie Beaton II, Carol Hardern, Gregory Hughes and Rob Banks.
Akers adds, this is the latest large-scale musical staged by PBTS. Past productions include Rent, Angels in America and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. “This was a big choice for us. We’ve done these musicals lately that are so issue-driven. At the end of the day, what this show does so beautifully is it just takes people on a journey. It just lets them see a truly moving story and I think that’s okay sometimes,” he says. “It’s not trying to take stance. It’s not trying to spark discussion among audience members. This was one of those contemporary musicals that was purely written to do what theatre should do and that’s tell a good story.”
Akers understands the show as an actor, having performed in the production while a student at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. It was a massive production at that school because they had the resources and the space to do it. That has also helped to shape his directorial perspective of the musical.
“What I find really quite inspiring with our production is we found a really minimalist way to tell the story that allows audience members to use their imagination to create their own experience. Everyone is going to get something different out of it which is very unique,” he says.
“I wanted to be able to spend my time as a director and get to the real heart of these scenes and focus on character development rather than sit in the audience and say ‘no, that color is not right’ or ‘that set piece has to be here’. It’s really a blessing to have the opportunity to say I don’t need to have my mind focused on the technical elements of the show. This is a big undertaking for us with this caliber of a show. It’s really forced us to be creative about it and it’s definitely been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of.”
Elton John’s music for Aida is stylistically eclectic with notes of reggae, Motown, gospel and pop. There is also a strong influence of African, Indian and Middle Eastern music, all used without much attention to the historical authenticity of the story. “I think that’s what we have used, this really great blend of mixing culture and music that is not Egyptian in any way,” Akers says “It’s a challenge but it’s like the stars have aligned.”
Regardless of culture, it’s the love story that continues to captivate audiences hundreds of years later. “It’s the struggle of opposing countries that are at war that somehow, some way by this love triangle happening, those two countries find peace with each other. And I think that is what is mostly pulled from the opera; three people who are fighting for love and doing whatever it takes to get that love. I think that’s a really big part of this musical. The love of Aida and her people, the love triangle and the love Amneris has for the Egyptian captain once everything is uncovered at the end of the show. It’s all about the love.”