Sunday, September 27, 2015

Marquee Theater Company: Aida (reviews)

aidaThe Marquee Theater Company opened its production of Aida at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater on September 25, 2015.
Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Elton John and Time Rice's Aida is a timeless story of ill-fated lovers whose “…destiny ignited by an act of war”. Featuring an award-winning pop/rock score from the seasoned duo who brought musical life to Disney’s The Lion King, Aida is an epic tale of love, loyalty and betrayal chronicling the relationship between an Egyptian Captain and a Nubian Princess that transcends warring nations and brings a country together.
Andrew Schultz directed a cast that included Darcy Hernandez, Alexandria Lugo, Bruno Faria, Nathan Mays, Elijah Wood, Robert Geils, and Victoria Anderson, with choreography by Ben Solmor.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Founders Andrew Shultz and Ben Solmor are the brains and talent behind Marquee. Shultz serves as the director of Aida, Solmor as its choreographer and one of its athletic dancers. The talent is just-starting-out fresh — two of its three leads are making their professional debuts — but well-trained via college, university, high school and conservatory programs.
The greatest strength in Marquee’s Aida flows from the voices of its three leads. Faria, who was so memorable as Clyde Barrow in Slow Burn’s Bonnie & Clyde, sings passionate duets with the fierce Lugo on Elaborate Lives and Written in the Stars. Hernandez brings gravitas to Every Story Is a Love Story and comic flair to Amneris’ broad early scenes. It’s clear that all three actors have promising careers ahead of them.
They’re ably supported by Nathan Mays as Radames’ scheming father Zoser, Elijah Word as Aida’s protector Mereb, Robert Geils as the slowly dying Pharoah, Victoria Anderson as the self-sacrificing Nehebka, and a large ensemble.
The production itself, with musical direction by Phil Hinton and sets by Mike Versetti, is in that vast middle ground between stellar and disappointing.
It would be better, for example, to pair those fine young voices with the work of live musicians. Solmor’s challenging, athletic choreography at times seems overly busy and fussy. The fashion show outfits look like they came from a not-very-upscale prom dress department, and as striking as the slender Lugo is in Aida’s sleek outfits, her “reincarnated” gown looks more appropriate for attending the Met Gala than touring the museum’s Egyptian exhibition.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
I meant to lead off this review telling you in detail what a surprisingly impressive bow the new Marquee Theater Company had this weekend in Boca Raton with its production of the Elton John-Tim Rice pop musical Aida. But that will have to wait a few moments.
Because transcending the fledgling company’s success was witnessing the supernova of an unknown college sophomore in the title role with the kind of performance that theater lovers paste in their scrapbook so they can say, “Yes, I was there when Alexandria Lugo made her professional debut.” Trust us, you’re going to hear a lot more from and about this woman.
Her clarion expressive mezzo-soprano can caress a song or belt paint off the ceiling, but it is simply the instrument she uses to transmit to an audience a purity of feeling. Her lithe body is usually quite still, but it occasionally bursts out with an frenetic fervor to lead the troupe in a dance number. But most potent is her face with soulful eyes radiating reined-in pain or joy, and a smile that runs from rueful to joyful – all mirroring the shifting emotions of her character’s soul.
…this production isn’t perfect, but it’s rare that a nascent professional theater troupe starts out with this strong and stirring an early effort marked by powerhouse singers and evocative choreography so well-executed – all by a group of artists who, with three exceptions, are unknown to even the most regular theatergoers in the region. Despite a limited budget, Shultz, Solmor and a cast of 22 have filled the stage with soaring sounds and engrossing visuals.
A prime asset here is Solmor’s choreography, which can be, by turns, as graceful as Martha Graham, as kinetic as Alvin Ailey, or as frenetic as the gyrations in a local dance club.
As the melding aesthetic for the show, Shultz, too, shows a lot of promise and talent. He has a similar bent for physicalization when the lovers are intertwined, exploring each other emotionally and corporally, first tentatively then with unrestrained rapture.
The praise for Lugo should not give short shrift to the only cast member you may have seen: Bruno Faria who made a similarly spectacular bow last season in Slow Burn Theatre’s Bonnie and Clyde... He brings an earnest honesty to the underwritten role, convincingly tracking Radames’ evolution from a marginally decent soldier into a man transformed by love.
Darcy Hernandez has no trouble with the vain self-centered princess – in several senses of the word – and she nails her comic numbers like the Motown-inflected “My Strongest Suit,” which she makes a showstopper. But her character’s later transformation into an empathetic human being is not quite convincing.
The leads get earnest, energetic backup from the secondary actors and singer-dancers in the chorus. Some of their acting chops are a little rocky (this is a very young ensemble), but their musical and terpsichorean talents can’t be faulted.
The most experienced hand in the entire production… is the veteran musical director Phil Hinton. His skill is evident in the polished vocal performances he has elicited not just from the leads but the ensemble as well. Of course, the full swelling sound of an orchestra here is thanks to digital tracks.
Among the production’s virtues is the best sound quality we’ve ever heard in that infamously problematic auditorium, apparently overseen by Lance Blank and implemented by Traci Watkins. The economical and very sketchy sets by Mike Versetti (sometimes there’s nothing on stage at all) don’t seem chintzy because the intricate lighting design by Shultz and Nick Morelli consistently establishes a different time, place and mood for almost every scene.
The Marquee Theater Company production of Aida plays at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater through October 4, 2015, 2015.

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