Central New York Playhouse continues its summertime tradition of mounting ambitious musicals (such as Reefer Madness and Catch Me If You Can) with this year’s splashy rock opera Aida. Make that Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, which is so much a creation on its own that it has its own title.
Adapted from composer Giuseppe Verdi’s 1871 opera, the immensely successful team has taken only the exotic location of ancient Egypt and its three-way love story. Amneris (Erin Williamson), betrothed of Radames (Chip Weber), willingly gives up everything, including his life, because of his love for the feisty, beautiful slave girl Aida (Cathy Butler).
Since its opening in 2000, this show has proven that it really has legs. It enjoyed a long Broadway run, many national tours, and continues to have productions in regional theater. Director Liam Fitzpatrick acknowledges that “this music has haunted (my) life for almost 15 years.” No doubt the same was true for most of the cast — at least for those who were old enough! They put their hearts into their singing and dancing.
Fitzpatrick chose gifted singers for the lead roles. Chip Weber has a beautiful voice to go with his good looks, and sings Rice’s lyrics meaningfully. Cathy Butler receives audience applause when she lets loose with the full power of her voice, but even more lovely is the expressive shaping of her intimate pianissimos. And Erin Williamson’s acting is as good as her singing. Obsessing over the details for Amneris’ supposedly imminent wedding (Will the statue of Isis be ready?), she provides some of the show’s funniest moments.
Music director Abel Searor, along with the others in his five-piece band, lends confident support to soloists as they performed in various styles and combinations of John’s score. And make no mistake that Aida is a BIG show, with almost two dozen performers divided into different choruses, including Nubian slave women and stick-wielding Egyptian soldiers.
Although the ambitious set design takes too long to move from one configuration to another, director Fitzpatrick ensures that all the show’s many pieces fit together. Aida has performances this weekend on Thursday, July 23, through Saturday, July 25, 8 p.m., and Sunday, July 26, 2 p.m.; the show will run through Aug. 1.