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12 May 2012


Palace Theatre, Westcliff
Saturday 12th May 2012

After Elton John and Tim Rice's successful collaboration on The Lion King, Disney reformed the partnership to produce this musical, based on Verdi's opera.  Having run on Broadway for over 4 years, won multiple Tony Awards, and been written and composed by a pair of Brits, it is a mystery as to why Aida has never been picked up professionally in the UK.  However with the amateur rights released last year, LODS have had the opportunity to produce the Essex premiere.

Opening in a modern museum and then transporting us to ancient Egypt, the multiple sets were solid, simply designed and all fitted their scenes excellently, including some lovely lighting effects.  Costumes maintained a suggestion of the period and status of each character, but never seemed to become cumbersome or restrictive, even in some of Amneris' more elaborate dresses. 

Barring a momentary out of place bang, which admirably did not distract the performers for a moment, the quality of the sound was as befits the professional venue, with radio mics pitched perfectly for every lead character.  The music was wonderful, retaining a mostly pop style throughout but also interspersed with other eclectic influences from African to Gospel, all handled flawlessly by the gifted band - MD'd by Rachael Plunkett and conducted by Stuart Woolner.

Without exception the principal actors were perfectly cast, committed to their performances and above all exceedingly talented, directed by Sallie Warrington.  I do question the decision to perform in American accents, generally well maintained though they were.  Written by Brits and set in Egypt, seemingly the show's only connection to the US is the fact it has previously been performed there, and I cannot help but think that perhaps a professional cast recording has influenced the accent choice.

The title role was played by Sarah Woolner.  Beautiful and majestic as the captured Nubian princess, she maintained a look of stony endurance at her enslavement, but gradually betrayed just enough emotion towards her forbidden love to capture the hearts of the audience in sympathy for her tragic situation.  A deeply layered performance coupled with a delightfully controlled singing voice. 

Radames was taken on by Olly Gourley, maintaining a masculinity that can be difficult in such a sentimental plot.  His voice blended wonderfully in the duets with Aida, resulting in a stirringly rich sound.  Jenny Peoples as Amneris never allowed her character to become the light relief, but developed from a shallow fashionista to establish a self assured grandeur as the wronged Egyptian princess.  Her costuming was particularly good with numerous changes throughout, and her bright, smooth voice opened and closed the show in style.  James Lobley was a charming Mereb, Barry Jones seemed to relish the evil of Zoser and Danielle Jameson brought her sparkling soprano to Nehebka.  The chorus supported each scene with style, and there were some adventurous and well executed dance routines by both the male and female ensemble.

With quality oozing from every aspect of this production, right from the stunning programme design and throughout the show, this was just about the best production I have seen by any amateur musical group.  Well done LODS.


  1. I agree with you about the performances, but I'm interested to know what you thought of the music, book, and lyrics, as I found the show itself (not the performances)lacked any musical or dramatic depth.

    1. I had heard a couple of individual numbers, out of context, but otherwise knew very little about the content of the show before seeing this production. However, having been produced by Disney and written by Elton John, my expectations were not that I would be in for a particularly profound or complex evening's entertainment.

      In fact I was surprised at just how moving and tragic the story was - there were quite a number of people sniffling into their tissues by the climax. If Disney had progressed with their animated version I anticipate that Amneris would have perhaps banished rather than buried the lovers!

      Similarly I was impressed by the musical numbers, which although undeniably rooted in Elton John's pop background, offered an interesting variety of styles. I wasn't completely convinced by the underscore, which became a little wishy-washy and forgettable at times when it should have been more dramatic. I thought the book and lyrics did well to convey the unfamiliar story, certainly through the main plotline between Aida, Radames and Amneris - although the sub-plot of Zoser poisoning the Pharaoh to hasten his son's progression to the throne was not really given enough opportunity to develop.

      I don't know if you know the original opera, but although the story and the emotional arcs of some of the characters have been simplified for this version the emotional depth of the story is, in my opinion, pretty well replicated. It is also certainly more palatable for a family based audience to, for example, have Aida sentenced alongside Radames rather than volunteering her own sacrifice.

      Overall, I disagree that the show was without any depth. I found the story immersive and the music emotionally suitable and varied. It is not on par with The Lion King, but I would enjoy seeing the show again.

    2. thanks for the response. I do know the opera, but deliberately tried to keep it out of my head when at the show. For me, the music didn't build any tension or drama, but paticularly in the second act was merely a succession of power ballads which didn't do much to move on the drama or characters. The reprise of 'Elaborate lives' was particularly lazy. I would have expected more consideration of the imbalance of power between the Egyptians and the Nubians - particularly in the Aida-Radames-Amneris relationship, which was written as little more than a high school love-triangle, which as Aida is a slave, ie. of no power or consequence (to the Egyptians at least), is something of a nonsense. Also a fuller exploration of Aida's conflicting emotion towards Radames her lover and Radames the destroyer of her country would have given her greater dignity and more character (yes, ok I am thinking 'Ritornar vincitor' here), but it only seemed to cross her mind when Dad turned up. The complexity of relationships were hinted at, but not developed enough to really make sense or heighten drama, probably because the dialogue seemed as short as possible to get onto the next song. But I think you've hit the nail firmly on the head when you say 'more palatable for a family based audience' (no suicide for Amneris either!), although I think any teenager could have taken a bit more complexity. Unfortunately, in simplifying it so much, it took out most of the interest and depth. If it's a tragedy I need to deeply care about the characters, and I didn't. It's very unlikely I'd make the effort to see it again - but I accept I'm in the minority!

    3. Thank you for sharing your views. There is always going to be a mixture of opinions about any show, and it's good to read some alternative and considered thoughts.

      If you are interested in comparatively new writing and like a gritty musical, can I recommend Spring Awakening? I think of it only because I know a young but extremely talented group doing a small-scale production as a fundraiser later this year, and I am sure it will be worth seeing.