Add playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Golden Child) to the already impressive creative team behind the new Disney musical, Aida. Hwang will work on the book of the show as a "creative consultant." Original bookwriter Linda Woolverton remains with the show.
Already on board for the musical, set to premiere at Chicago's Palace Theater this fall, are director Robert Falls (Death of a Salesman), designer Bob Crowley (The Iceman Cometh), and stars Adam Pascal (Rent), Heather Headley (The Lion King) and Sherie Scott.
The Elton John & Tim Rice musical will try out at Chicago, IL's newly renovated Palace Theater, Nov. 12, 1999-Jan. 9, 2000, officially opening Dec. 9, before arriving on Broadway in the spring of 2000. New York rehearsals are to begin Sept. 20 for a 25-member cast.
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.
It is still not known which Broadway theater will house Aida, though it looks likely that Disney's Beauty and the Beast will move out of the Palace Theater -- possibly to the Lunt Fontanne -- in order to make room for the new show. Titanic sailed out of the Lunt Fontanne March 28. Producer Stewart F. Lane, who co-owns Broadway's Palace Theatre with the Nederlander Organization, told PBOL (March 5), "Talks are currently under way... I think with the rock nature of the material [in Aida], [Disney] thought the Palace more suitable with its second balcony, where it could sell cheaper tickets for younger audiences," said Lane. The Nederlander Organization, speaking in the New York Times (March 5), also affirmed that talks were indeed going forth with Disney Theatrical Productions' producers, Peter Schneider and Thomas Schumacher.
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. (Lighting designer Natasha Katz and bookwriter Linda Woolverton remain with the show.)
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.
Crowley, meanwhile, has been highly praised for the work in the musical theater, which includes the designs for Carousel and The Capeman. Cilento is best known for his choreography of Tommy.
Sound designer Steve Kennedy (Carousel, Tommy) has also been added to the mix, as has 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.
In other Aida news, the all-star album, titled "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida," was released March 23 on Rocket/Island Records.
Among the pop stars who recorded the musical's 14 numbers are Sting, James Taylor, the Spice Girls, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, LeAnn Rimes and John himself. John and Rimes performed the Aida song "Written in the Stars" Jan. 10 on "The 25th Annual People's Choice Awards." The duet appears on the album and was released as a single in late February.
The track listing for "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida" is as follows:
"Another Pyramid," Sting
"How I Know You," James Taylor
"Written in the Stars," Elton John and LeAnn Rimes
"Enchantment Passing Through," Dru Hill
"My Strongest Suit," Spice Girls
"Easy as Life," Tina Turner
"I Know the Truth," Elton John and Janet Jackson
"Amneris' Letter," Shania Twain
"Like Father Like Son," Lenny Kravitz
"Not Me," Boyz II Men
"Elaborate Lives," Elton John
"A Step too Far," Elton John, Heather Headley and Sherie Scott
"The Gods Love Nubia," Kelly Price
"The Messenger," Elton John and Lulu
Aida, which shares the same story as, but is not exactly based on, Verdi's opera of the same name, tells of a slave Nubian princess, an Egyptian princess, and the soldier both women love.
Tickets for Aida ($32.50-$75) at Chicago's Palace Theater go onsale June 4. For information call (312) 902-1500.