By Robert Simonson
11 Feb 2000
Two weeks remain until the first New York preview of the new Disney musical Aida. The Elton John-Tim Rice tuner concluded a two-month stint at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre Jan. 9, and will begin performances at Broadway's Palace on Feb. 25. March 23 will mark opening night.
As in the Windy City, the musical stars Heather Headley, who was acclaimed in reviews, as well as Adam Pascal and Sherie Rene Scott. Robert Falls directs, Wayne Cilento is choreographer and Bob Crowley provided the scenic designs.
The book credit has been revised with the New York bow; director Falls and playwright David Henry Hwang now share credit with original book writer Linda Woolverton. Hwang was hired as a "creative consultant" shortly after the ill-fated, initial Atlanta production of the musical.
Falls made his reputation in Chicago, first as artistic director of the now defunct Wisdom Bridge Theatre, then as head of the Goodman Theatre. Among his landmark Second City productions have been a grandly rethought Hamlet and Galileo -- the latter being the first of a string of collaborations with actor Brian Dennehy that led to the Tony winning Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman.
Completing the 25-member cast of Aida are Tyrees Allen, Robert Armitage, Troy Allan Burgess, Franne Calma, Bob Gaynor, John Hickok, Kisha Howard, Tim Hunter, Youn Kim, Kyra Little, Kenya Unique Massey, Corrine McFadden, Phineas Newborn, Daniel Oreskes, Damian Perkins, Jody Ripplinger, Raymond Rodriguez, Eric Sciotto, Samual Thiam, Jerald Vincent, Schele Williams and Natalia Zisa.
The new Aida is vastly different from the production which opened at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Oct. 7, 1998. Of that show's stars, only Heather Headley, as Aida, and Sherie Rene Scott, as Amneris, remain. Newly added in Chicago was Adam Pascal (Rent) as Radames. Tony winner Robert Falls took over as director in Chicago, replacing Robert Jess Ross; and acclaimed set designer Bob Crowley supplanted Stanley A. Meyer. Also part of the new Chicago team was choreographer Wayne Cilento.
Among Crowley's sets for the show are a backdrop for Aida's native Nubia, in which the work "Nubia" is spelled out in letters several feet high, and a perspective-twisting backdrop of a David Hockney-like swimming pool, reminiscent of the designer's work on The Capeman.
The musical features the songs "Written in the Stars," "My Strongest Suit," "A Step too Far" and "Easy as Life."
Disney's Beauty and the Beast left Broadway's Palace Theatre Sept. 5 to make room for Aida's arrival. Beast reopened Nov. 12, at the Lunt-Fontanne.
Aida suffered a mishap on Nov. 13 when a stage accident halted weekend performances and resulted in minor injuries for two of the show's stars.
Aida had just begun its pre-Broadway run when, in front of a stunned Chicago audience, a problem with the set during the show's final moments felled stars Headley and Pascal. According to an eyewitness report, while the two actors were being conveyed in a suspended boxlike "tomb" at the climax of the show, the set piece broke from its support and plunged approximately eight feet to the stage.
The elevated tomb set piece has since been eliminated from the show.
The earlier incarnation at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in 1998 also suffered glitches, in the earlier case with its pyramid set piece.