The dates are now in. The new Disney musical Aida will begin previews at Broadway's Palace Theatre on Feb. 23, 2000, for an opening a month later, on March 23. The New York engagement will follow a tryout at Chicago's own Palace, Nov. 12, 1999-Jan. 9, 2000. New York rehearsals are to begin in September for a 25-member cast.
The Elton John-Tim Rice musical will be directed Robert Falls (Tony winner for Death of a Salesman), designed by Bob Crowley (The Iceman Cometh), choreographed by Wayne Cilento, and will star Adam Pascal (Rent), Heather Headley (The Lion King) and Sherie Rene Scott (recently altered from just play Sherie Scott). Hwang has worked on the book of the show as a "creative consultant." Original bookwriter Linda Woolverton remains with the show.
As revealed earlier this summer and long rumored, Beauty and the Beast will leave Broadway's Palace Theatre, Sept. 5, and reopen a month later, Nov. 12, at the Lunt-Fontanne, making room for Aida.
Producers are being very careful not to call the Beauty switch a move or transfer. As per Actors' Equity rules, they're "closing" the show and waiting (at least) six weeks to "open" it again. By following those guidelines, the producers can trim the cast and other aspects of the production (if need be) before Beauty appears again at the Lunt. The move echoes the fate of The Scarlet Pimpernel -- which closed on Broadway this spring and is currently on tour. Producers will bring the musical back to Broadway this fall, but in a smaller theatre and with a tighter cast. In a statement, Disney Theatricals co-producer (with Thomas Schumacher) Peter Schneider promises, "A spectacular new production" that will employ many of the cast, musicians and crew of the current Beauty.
Disney began considering bringing Aida to the Palace Theatre in early 2000. Beauty opened at the Palace April 18, 1994 and has run nearly 2,200 performances there. *
Headley and Scott appeared in the previous, ill-fated version of Aida that premiered at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, Oct. 7, 1998. Headley came to industry attention playing Nala in The Lion King; Scott appeared in Broadway's Rent and in Kander & Ebb's new tuner Over & Over in Washington DC. Pascal is perhaps the best-known original cast-member of Rent.
Aida's debut at Atlanta's Alliance suffered mixed reviews and technical problems concerning its central set piece, a large pyramid. Following the play's Atlanta run, Disney dismissed much the creative team, which included director Robert Jess Roth and set designer Stanley A. Meyer, replacing them with Robert Falls and Bob Crowley, respectively, as well as adding choreographer Wayne Cilento.
Both Roth and Meyer were veterans of the Beauty and the Beast . With the hiring of Falls and Crowley -- both highly respected artists -- Disney seems to be moving away from the family spectacle of Beauty in favor of the more successful, high-art formula of Julie Taymor's The Lion King.
Falls is not known for his work with musicals. Rather, he has made his reputation with grandly rethought stagings of classics such as Hamlet and Galileo and the current Broadway Death of a Salesman. Recently, he has mounted productions of new works, such as Horton Foote's The Young Man from Atlanta and Eric Bogosian's subUrbia.
Falls told Playbill On-Line (May 29) that the pyramid set piece would not be a part of the new production of Aida.
Sound designer Steve Kennedy (Carousel, Tommy) is also in the mix, as is orchestrator Steve Margoshes and musical director, co-orchestrator and co-arranger Paul Bogaev. Guy Babylon, who has been in Elton John's band as a keyboardist since 1988, serves as musical arranger.
Tickets for Aida ($32.50-$75) at Chicago's Palace Theater go onsale June 4. For information call (312) 902-1500.