July 2, 2011
I have long heard about "AIDA," a musical play set in Egypt in the time of the Pharoahs, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by David Henry Hwang et al. I heard about it first when the song "Written In the Stars" (by Elton John and Leanne Rimes) came out as a pop hit back in 1999. This musical went on to win Tonys for Best Musical Score (for Elton John and Tim Rice), as well as Best Actress (for Heather Headley). It is only now that this play makes it debut on the Philippine stage via Atlantis. It was promoted as a must-watch. The ticket prices for this show is notably more expensive than previous Atlantis shows, with the Center Orchestra seats at P1,700 each.
As predicted, the stage and costume designs were quite simple, in contrast with my imagination of how the Tony award-winning Broadway production design looked like. I don't know, but I felt a disconnect between the French revolution-style costumes of the Egyptian soldiers with the rest of the more traditional Egyptian-looking set production. The lighting effects were very haunting and effective in building mood. However, when we watch Filipino musical productions, we really watch out for the singing talent of the Filipino cast of actors. And in that aspect, "Aida" did not disappoint.
Ms. Ima Castro is a theater actress whose name precedes her, but I had never ever seen her before. I do know she had been Ms. Saigon somewhere before. She takes on the serious title role of Aida, a Nubian princess who was captured and later enraptured by Egyptian captain Radames. Unfortunately, Ms. Castro does not look like the typical romantic lead princess. Her scenes with Radames sadly lacked any spark or chemistry. It did not seem believable that Radames would dump the lovely Amneris for her. But Ms. Castro and her powerful voice really shone brightest in her scenes with the Nubians ("Dance of the Robe" and "The Gods Loves Nubia") in which she was able to project her true nobility as a Nubian princess.
Captain Radames is played by Myke Salomon. I have seen Myke before as the Palestinian boyfriend of one of the "Care Divas". While he was still liberal in showing off his bare torso, more importantly he was able to showcase his singing voice. Whatever sneak preview of singing talent was shown in that PETA production became a full realization in "Aida." He was a revelation in his efficient rendition of the mostly rock/pop songs in the score which were a good fit for his voice quality. His solo spot in the song "Radames Letter" was his best moment I think.
The third angle of the love triangle was played by luminous and ever-reliable Ms. Rachel Alejandro, who was absolutely delightful as Amneris, an Egyptian princess who had been betrothed to Radames for nine years now. She had fun in her flighty role in the first half ("The Strongest Suit"), and tackled her character's dramatic turn in the second half ("I Know the Truth"), both very well indeed. She looked youthful, vivacious and regal in her colorful costumes and was believable as a real princess.
Very interesting was the casting of Ms. Rachel's father Hajji Alejandro as Zoser, the villainous Chief Minister and father of Radames. When he first stepped out on stage, Mr. Alejandro still looked quite young and did not really look like the father of Myke. His singing voice though is still very strong and solid. Josh Santana played the Nubian slave Mereb quite well. His Mereb had more chemistry with Ms. Ima's Aida than Radames did! He sang the song that impressed me the most in the whole show "How I Know You." These two guys figured in an awkward moment during the climactic fight scene towards the end, but it may have been a problem in stage direction.
Overall, the show is very entertaining with great singing moments. It was fun to recognize Atlantis staples Felix Rivera and Johann dela Fuente, as well as singer Jimmy Marquez (with his trademark hairstyle) among guys in the chorus. Congratulations once again to Atlantis Productions and to director Ms. Chari Arespacochaga for yet another good show. There will be one more show today July 3, and the last four more shows in the next weekend.