Jul 14, 2011

[Theater] Aida (Atlantis Productions)

Aida (Atlantis Productions)At this point, I suppose you say that I've become a bit of a patron of Atlantis Productions. The local theater group has been staging popular musicals since 1999 when they first touched many lives by running a successful staging of RENT. That was one of the first theater productions that I had seen done by a professional group apart from a staging of Camelot, although I forget who ran that one. I didn't get to follow many other Atlantis shows immediately after that and it wasn't until 2007 when I finally "met" the group again with their staging of Avenue Q.

Since then, I've come to trust the level of quality that they bring to the table in their efforts to do justice to the great shows that they bring into the country. And they don't sweat the small stuff - they've consistently gone after the bigger name shows that have raked in Tony Awards and fan acclaim alike and I'd like to think that they've done a fairly good job for the most part.

This show felt like one of the first times they've stumbled for me. I'm not saying it was entirely a bad play, but it definitely wasn't their strongest effort to-date. Then again, there are a lot of elements that go into this production that may or may not have played a factor in the final outcome. It does merit a bit more study at this point.

Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida is a musical based on an opera by Giuseppe Verdi. More specifically, it was actually based on the children's storybook of the opera that Disney had purchased the right to for a possible animated feature that ended up being a stage musical instead. This particular staging was directed by Chari Arespacochaga.

The play begins in a modern museum where a statue of Amneris (Rachel Alejandro), comes to life to tell the audience her story. Thus we're brought back to ancient Egypt where Captain Radames (Myke Salomon) and his men have captured a group of Nubians that had wandered too near the border. Among their number is Aida (Ima Castro), who is strong-willed and headstrong and defies her Nubian captors. After she is subdued in an attempt to escape together with her countrymen, he decides to give her as a gift to his fiancee Amneris, daughter of the Pharaoh.

Once back in Egypt, he meets with his father Zoser (Hajji Alejandro) who shares the news that the Pharoah has been growing increasingly ill. Thus all the more it becomes important to wed Amneris in order to secure the line of succession. However Radames is unaware of the fact that the Pharoah is actually suffering from Arsenic poisoning due to his father Zoser's machinations. Meanwhile, Radames' servant Mereb (Josh Santana), a fellow Nubian, recognizes Aida for who she truly is - the daughter of the Nubian King and Princess to her people. Thus she presents a glimmer of hope for the enslaved Nubians of a better life despite her own reluctance to fully embrace her duty to her nation.

Aida (musical)Image via WikipediaAt the core of this story is the romantic triangle between Radames, Aida and Amneris. As Radames gets to know Aida more and more, he finds himself oddly attracted to her despite his arranged marriage to Amneris. And this becomes an increasing source of conflict as Aida continues to keep her nobility secret.

Now my partner and I had managed to catch the last show of this run, not necessarily out of preference but more because the show buyer that I prefer dealing with had booked that particular show. Last shows are always a mixed back for me since I've always felt that emotions tend to run a bit higher during a last run. It's the last time they'll stage this particular show with this particular cast after all (unless a repeat run is authorized) and thus I always fear that it may affect the performance. But at the same time, the last show seems like a safer bet than any of the shows during the opening weekend when they're still working out some of the last minute technical glitches that only truly manifest during the actual performance.

However my feelings about this pay, I feel, have more to do with the actual group itself and less any possible emotions of the day.

First, I will acknowledge that the cast could clearly sing well. Ima Castro has an AMAZING set of pipes that give her the ability to hit some pretty high notes with ease. Myke Salomon certainly handled his songs like any other Disney Prince would and the ensemble worked as well as could be expected. However when it came to the acting side of things, a lot of the performance fell rather flat. We never felt like Aida loved Radames as much as he loved her. Mereb was constantly torn between comedic and dramatic and never figuring out the balance. Heck, Hajji Alejandro didn't even strike me as any kind of a father figure, what more an "evil" manipulator as he was meant to be. It was as if most of the cast weren't able to let go of their inhibitions for this show and thus they never fully invested in their characters. Thus we got half-hearted performances that failed to strike that emotional chord in the audience that is essential to any play getting its message across.

I will give some credit to Myke Salomon for clearly trying hard to get the job done. Apart from the obvious effort that went into his singing (the plunging necklines of his costumes made the straining of his vocal chords quite obvious for everyone) and even the acting bits, I just felt he wasn't quite the man for the job. His speech was a bit clipped and carried an odd quality to it that reminded me of local voice dubbing. I bet that he speaks better conversational English compared to this performance where he seemed to be awkward with the language.

Josh Santana was even worse - he was unintentionally funny and had he opted to embrace this comedic side he might have salvaged the role. I don't even know where to begin when it comes to Carlos Canlas, who was the member of the ensemble who had to double as the Pharaoh. My partner compared him to a villain from the old TV series Shaider, and darn I couldn't get the image of out my head either. Well that, AND the thought that he was like a weird Professor X with hair since they kept wheeling him on and off stage while riding his throne. Or maybe Metron?

The saving graces of the show were no doubt Alys Serdenia as Nehebka and Felix Rivera as part of the ensemble. Alys could have played Aida herself given the intensity that she has brought to every show and her own singing abilities. I've always felt that she inevitably ends up stealing the show every time she's cast in the more minor roles since her stage presence is just that strong. And she continued to bring that same level of intensity here as she did in plays like Xanadu and Legally Blonde and that just had me wishing for her to take the lead role.

And I cite Felix not just because he's been a lead in shows like Next to Normal before. I say this since he really stands out in the ensemble since he's probably the only one fully committed to his role while on stage. This is best scene in the comically tragic dance routines which were rather complex, decently ambitious but poorly executed. Those kinds of moves require a lot of practice in order to drill the kind of snappy, precise movements that make such routines work visually for the audience. In this case, only Felix was doing a decent job of the dancing and thus it either appeared that the rest of the ensemble were really bad or he was showing off, hehe. Obviously it was the former and not the latter.

The costumes felt very...costume-y, or at least they looked that way in terms of material and construction. The slaves didn't seem like slaves but more like people who put their outfits together based on what they thought slaves would like to wear. The only person who had great costumes was Amneris and maybe Radames if you count the times when he was in fact shirtless and not wearing anything gaudy.

If anything, the set design was pretty spectacular. I loved how dynamic it was and how it truly gave the play character of its own. In theory the design was fairly simple since all the pieces were only lowered onto the stage or lifted away - no need for revolving platforms or complex two-sided constructs. But the way they all came together made them look more beautiful than how they were originally envisioned, perhaps, thus adding a whole different level of quality to things.

I admit that this critique is a bit harsher than most, more probably because I've come to expect so much from Atlantis. after they way they beautifully brought Next to Normal to life, it was deeply disappointing to see how this production turned out. I can only hope that their upcoming production of In The Heights will be a lot better thus keeping my faith in Atlantis and their work.

Aida is still fundamentally a great story presented in an interesting play. The music is top notch and wonderfully diverse thanks to the creativity of Elton John and Tim Rice and the production as a whole did a decent job of bringing things to life.

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  1. Chuckle-worthy moments in the show:
    1. Josh Santana and Hajji's lame swordfight.
    2. Hajji running off the stage.
    3. Josh running off the stage.
    4. The Pharoah being wheeled on the stage in his throne/wheel chair.


  2. Gulat ako sa reviews ah...

    Di ko napansin yung acting masyado... I was really in awe sa singing...

    I actually saw this musical twice

  3. @Misterhubs:

    I totally LOL'd at all those moments! Heck, any time Josh Santana spoke it was unintentionally hilarious.


    Like I said, I suppose I hold Atlantis to a fairly high standard now - that may have factored into my response.

  4. Looking back nga...

    Awkward nga si Josh Santana sa lines niya pero the singing, especially kay Ima, DJ Myke, Rachel, Alyn and Hajji was something ♥...

  5. I agree with you on a lot of points! It was difficult not to get distracted with the little bits as I saw the show. The actors were okay in themselves, but as an ensemble? I'm not so sure. A really strong element that producers/directors easily brush aside is the casting and I feel that some crucial characters had been miscast in this musical that chemistry among the characters just was not there. It was like they just went, "Oh hey he can sing / oh hey he's good looking, he's good enough for the role!" OWELL. I'd been waiting ten years to see this show. Sigh.

    I still love Atlantis' efforts though. They just have to work on the casting a bit more. :)