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Disney’s ‘Aida’ a pop-opera hit

Talented cast, sets, costumes are all stunning

SHARE Disney’s ‘Aida’ a pop-opera hit

AIDA, by Elton John and Tim Rice; a Theater League of Utah presentation; Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South; continues through July 29, 8 p.m. weeknights, 7:30 p.m. Sundays (matinee only July 29); matinees, 2 p.m., July 14, 15, 21, 22, 26, 28 and 29; no performances July 16 and 24. Tickets, $25-$65; all seats reserved. Reservations: ArtTix locations or 355-2787 or 888-451-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (one intermission).

The plot (well, most of it) is right out of Verdi's classic opera of the same name. But the music and lyrics, by Elton John and Tim Rice, bring "Aida" into the "pop-opera" arena.

The drama of a steamy triangle involving Egyptian and Nubian royalty is still set in ancient Egypt, but this is treated as a two-act flashback, bookended by scenes showing the reincarnated lovers — Aida and Radames — meeting in a New York museum exhibit of Egyptian treasures.

The theatrical treasures in this new Disney stage production are abundant — incredible sets and stunning costumes, both created by Bob Crowley; Natasha Katz's dramatic lighting effects and a cast loaded with extraordinary talent.

The opening-night Salt Lake crowd also got a bit of "the show must go on" Broadway tradition as well. One of the three major leads, Kelli Fournier, who normally plays Amneris (the ailing pharaoh's daughter with a "Nile Valley Girl" attitude), was replaced by her understudy, Julie Danao (and she delivered a knock-out performance).

Simone (who goes by just the one name) and Patrick Cassidy were also terrific as Aida, a Nubian princess captured by the Egyptian soldiers, and Radames, the conquering hero who is ill at ease when it comes to romancing Amneris, though they've been betrothed for nine years.

Most of the action — built around John and Rice's sturdy musical pyramid — is centered on the romantic triangle. The central characters' realization of what they've created comes to a head at the first of Act Two. The shape of a pyramid is outlined by lasers, as Amneris considers her loveless plight, Radames feels both dejected and ecstatic, while Aida ponders her misspent love at the cost of her homeland's future.

But there are political machinations behind the scenes, too — particularly Radames' father, Zoser (a fine performance by Neal Benari of the original Broadway cast), cleverly plotting to clear the way for his son to rule Egypt.

You may not come out humming the songs, but they're all moving. And you will definitely be awed by the show-stopping effects, especially Amneris and the explosion of color in her wild wardrobe. Some of the best music, such as "The Gods Love Nubia," has a rhythmic, African/gospel sound.

This may never play the Met, but Disney's talented team has put its own memorable stamp on "Aida."

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com