DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: AIDA at Jacksonville University

Jacksonville University’s College of Fine Arts Performing Arts Series opened the pop-musical “Aida” at Swisher Theatre on their Arlington campus on February 16, 2018; additional performances are scheduled on February 17, 23 and 25.

The musical is based on Verdi’s opera of the same name, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. “Aida debuted in 2000 on Broadway and was not a favorite of New York critics. But the public loved it and it ran for 1,800 performances.

“Every Story is a Love Story,” the opening song, informs us that “Aida” is a story of love that flourished in a time of hate. It was sung by Amneris (Charly Adams), the daughter of Egypt’s Pharaoh (Angel Rivera), who is betrothed to the warrior Radames (LJ Glanton). Radames prefers battle to marriage; he has been engaged for nine years. The marriage was arranged his scheming father Zoser (Christopher Mandel), who is secretly poisoning the Pharaoh. Radames has recently arrived from the neighboring county of Nubia with a ship filled with captives. The Nubian princess Aida (Sade Crosby), is among them; she is both beautiful and outspoken. The Nubian King Amonasro was portrayed by Brian Champion. Radames gives Aida to Amneris as a handmaiden, but soon becomes enamored with her and they fall in love. As in Verdi’s opera, tragedy will follow this forbidden romance.

The score is loaded with ballads, which not only advance the plot but offer the opportunity for outstanding duets and solos by the principals, augmented by excellent ensemble vocalization. We had several favorites; one was “How I Know You,” sung by Mereb (Malik Lockhart), a valued enslaved servant of Radames, and Aida.

Charly Adams has a strong voice as she demonstrated in the crowd pleasing “My Strongest Suit,” which featured the dancing of Palace Women. Both the duets and solos by leading characters LJ Ganton as Radames and Sade Crosby as Aida were superb show stoppers. Zoe Rosas as Nehebka contributed her fine vocal talents in “Dance of the Robe” and “The Gods Love Nubia.”

The dancing and singing Palace Women were Mialah Beasley, Karina Castro, Shauna Clark, Chelsea Diaz, Angelika Lorraine, Lacey Mickler, Shelby Mosely, and Genesis Seary.

Appearing as Nubian Slaves were Jacqueline Glassman, Alexandra Gravina, Vera Keyes and Erin Seaton. Ministers were portrayed by Angel Rivera, Abrien Nelson and Brian Champion; Guards included Spencer Barney, Malik Lockhart and Joseph Mahoney.

Set Designer Brandon Lettow and Lighting Designers Ben Wilson and Austin Keim combined their talents to create a brilliantly conceived set. Many transparent curtains hung from the ceiling were rearranged throughout the production to indicate location changes. Color was also given a role, as the rear wall and the curtains were frequently bathed in different colors to suit the action on stage.

The costume design by Esther Olivo brought the ancient era of the musical to life with eye-catching garments. The choreography by Victoria Miller with Dance Captain Angelika Lorraine captured the excitement of the show.

The Music Director (also on keyboard) for the ten-piece orchestra tucked away under the stage was Ben Beck. The actors were miked so that the audience could hear the full range of their marvelous voices.

“Aida” was directed by talented JU faculty member Kimberly Beasley. She has double cast three of the major roles. On February 23rd and 25th Aida will be performed by Esther Olivo, Amneris by Emily Pate, and Nehebka by Andrea Cristina Vilarino-Gonzalez.

Special thanks go to Stage Manager Michaela Wright and Assistant Stage Manager Sam Catone and the stage crew that were constantly changing the configuration of the beautiful curtains used the back drops. The crew members were Shauna Clark, Chelsea Diaz, Jackie Glassman, Alex Gravina, Vera Keyes, Shelby Mosely and Erin Seaton.

As theatre critics who review many productions staged by community theatres, we want to thank the JU students who have participated on our local stages as performers and technicians. Their talents and contributions are greatly appreciated.

We urge readers to visit JU’s beautiful campus to experience this splendid musical. For additional information about Fine Arts events at JU, see https://www.ju.edu/cfa/cfa-events.php.  Ticket prices are $10.00 for adults and just $5.00 for seniors, alumni, children, students and military.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.