Palace Theatre, Westcliff
Saturday 12th May 2012
After Elton John and Tim Rice's successful collaboration on The Lion King, Disney reformed the partnership to produce this musical, based on Verdi's opera. Having run on Broadway for over 4 years, won multiple Tony Awards, and been written and composed by a pair of Brits, it is a mystery as to why Aida has never been picked up professionally in the UK. However with the amateur rights released last year, LODS have had the opportunity to produce the Essex premiere.
Opening in a modern museum and then transporting us to ancient Egypt, the multiple sets were solid, simply designed and all fitted their scenes excellently, including some lovely lighting effects. Costumes maintained a suggestion of the period and status of each character, but never seemed to become cumbersome or restrictive, even in some of Amneris' more elaborate dresses.
Barring a momentary out of place bang, which admirably did not distract the performers for a moment, the quality of the sound was as befits the professional venue, with radio mics pitched perfectly for every lead character. The music was wonderful, retaining a mostly pop style throughout but also interspersed with other eclectic influences from African to Gospel, all handled flawlessly by the gifted band - MD'd by Rachael Plunkett and conducted by Stuart Woolner.
Without exception the principal actors were perfectly cast, committed to their performances and above all exceedingly talented, directed by Sallie Warrington. I do question the decision to perform in American accents, generally well maintained though they were. Written by Brits and set in Egypt, seemingly the show's only connection to the US is the fact it has previously been performed there, and I cannot help but think that perhaps a professional cast recording has influenced the accent choice.
The title role was played by Sarah Woolner. Beautiful and majestic as the captured Nubian princess, she maintained a look of stony endurance at her enslavement, but gradually betrayed just enough emotion towards her forbidden love to capture the hearts of the audience in sympathy for her tragic situation. A deeply layered performance coupled with a delightfully controlled singing voice.
Radames was taken on by Olly Gourley, maintaining a masculinity that can be difficult in such a sentimental plot. His voice blended wonderfully in the duets with Aida, resulting in a stirringly rich sound. Jenny Peoples as Amneris never allowed her character to become the light relief, but developed from a shallow fashionista to establish a self assured grandeur as the wronged Egyptian princess. Her costuming was particularly good with numerous changes throughout, and her bright, smooth voice opened and closed the show in style. James Lobley was a charming Mereb, Barry Jones seemed to relish the evil of Zoser and Danielle Jameson brought her sparkling soprano to Nehebka. The chorus supported each scene with style, and there were some adventurous and well executed dance routines by both the male and female ensemble.
With quality oozing from every aspect of this production, right from the stunning programme design and throughout the show, this was just about the best production I have seen by any amateur musical group. Well done LODS.