Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida is a technically challenging and vocally demanding show for a community theatre to take on. With the Director, Andrew JM Regiec, also tackling set design responsibilities (a doubling of duties that can derail far easier productions) we wonder if the Reston Community Players will be up to the task. As we settle into our seats at the Reston Community Center those concerns are quickly allayed.
The show opens in the wonderfully designed modern museum and it is the setting for a man and a woman to be transfixed by each other’s gaze and share an ancient connection. The statue of Amneris (Claire O’Brien Jeffrey) comes to life to deliver a beautiful vocal performance on the slow burning Every Story is A Love Story. Regiec’s vision for the show works in total synchronicity with his and Dan Widerski’s versatile set design. This is perfectly showcased on My Strongest Suit when Amneris and her entourage are using the stairs that cross the stage left to right. The stairs are deconstructed before our eyes and transformed into a runway that brings the action downstage in the form of a fashion show that climaxes with Amneris in one of the best costumes of the night. Jeffrey sings well throughout but does have a tendency to overplay the jokes rather than trust the writing (and the audience) and we have to wait until the second act for the honesty we really want from her character. She strikes the right tragic note necessary in her acting and her singing on I Know the Truth and it’s a wonderful moment that is elevated by the stunning costume design by Charlotte Marson. Her dress conveys the trapped melancholy of the lyrics, conjuring imagery of her being inside a cage.
Elton John and LeAnn Rimes combined to make Written in the Stars a billboard hit and the best known song from the show. The job of portraying the love story of Aida and Radames belongs to Tara Lynn Yates-Reeves and Brett Harwood. Yates-Reeves has a delightful tone to her voice but is definitely taken out of her comfort zone when in her upper register and some of her swaying and gesticulating while singing is somewhat distracting. Harwood has a very rock edge to his voice that would sound at home as Mark Cohen in Rent and he gives a committed vocal performance that overcomes the occasional pitch issue. The true drama and despair of their relationship is never fully realized – unfortunately Harwood’s line delivery often falls a little flat – but there are genuine moments of chemistry between the pair. It’s a strong supporting cast and Paul Tonden, in the role of Radames’ father, sings with clarity and purpose and combines that with a strong stage presence.
The highlight for Music Director, Elisa Rosman, comes just before the intermission with the gospel-esque The Gods Love Nubia. The ensemble does a great job all night but this is the moment for the goosebumps. The choreography by Andrea Cook is relevant and creative throughout, utilizing the levels of the set, but the execution does not reach the same plane. The majority of the dance numbers are not together or clean and would have benefited from another solid week of rehearsal.
The final moments for Aida and Radames are movingly staged as Director and Lighting Designers (Ken & Patti Crowley) collaborate to beautiful effect. Despite no truly standout performance, Regiec deserves huge credit for the overall vision of the show and the creativity and imagination of the set design. In unison with the amazingly fast choreographed scene transitions (kudos to the stage crew) it is worth the price of admission alone – this is must see community theatre.
#tothepoint Rating: 71/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $27
Value Review: +$15