By Robert Simonson
05 Sep 2004
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
Aida will have played 1,852 regular performances, overcoming a rocky developmental period, mixed reviews and the loss of the 2000 Best Musical Tony Award (though it did win for Best Score) to earn back its investment in 99 weeks' time. To date, the show has generated profits of $12 million.
The musical—which was once titled Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida—was pop superstar Elton John's first attempt to write directly for the musical theatre stage. (His score for The Lion King was first heard in the hit screen version of that tale.) He teamed with veteran English lyricist and Lion King collaborator Tim Rice. The libretto is by Linda Woolverton and Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang. Wayne Cilento is the choreographer. Falls directed in a rare departure from his usual work, which included award-winning revivals Death of a Salesman beforehand, and Long Day's Journey Into Night afterward.
The musical, based on Verdi's opera, tells the story of a forbidden love triangle between Aida, a Nubian princess forced into captivity, Amneris, an Egyptian princess, and Radames, the soldier they both love. The Broadway production created two stars: Heather Headley, who dazzled critics in the title role, and Sherie Rene Scott, who played Amneris, and has since played roles in the musicals The Last Five Years and Debbie Does Dallas and will soon appear in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Headley surprised many by winning the Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award, beating out Marin Mazzie, Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald and Tony Collette. Unlike Scott, she has not followed up her achievement with further stage roles, but has instead focused on a recording career.
The musical also won Tonys for Best Lighting Design (Natasha Katz) and Best Set Design (Bob Crowley).
Aida has a bumpy road to success. The musical that opened on March 23, 2000, was far different from the one that tried out at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre on Oct. 7, 1998. Of that show's stars, only Heather Headley, as Aida, and Sherie Rene Scott, as Amneris, remained. Newly added in a subsequent Chicago tryout, which begin in late 1999, was Pascal 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 Cilento. The book credit for Aida was revised with the New York bow; director Robert Falls and playwright David Henry Hwang now shared credit with original book writer Linda Woolverton.
The Chicago run at the Cadillac Theatre also had its share of drama. On Nov. 13, 1999, a set mishap during the final moments of the performance 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. A subsequent press release from the show's publicist stated that Headley and Pascal sustained minor injuries and were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for examination. Both were released from the hospital a few hours later.
Since opening, the show has seen several leading players come and go. Among the various Aidas were Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox, Maya Days, Saycon Senqbloh, Simone, and Michelle T. Williams. Idina Menzel, Jessica Hendy, Felicia Finley, Taylor Dayne and Lisa Brescia all played Amneris. Ramades has been portrayed by Richard H. Blake, Matt Bogart, Patrick Cassidy, Will Chase and William Robert Gaynor.
Disney Theatrical Productions continues on Broadway and internationally with 13 productions including The Lion King, which will celebrate its seventh anniversary this fall, and Beauty and the Beast, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary on Broadway.
On the Record, a new theatrical touring revue of Disney songs, premieres this fall in Cleveland featuring Emily Skinner and Brian Sutherland, among others.