WASHINGTON, D.C. — A trimmed down “Aida” is being performed by D.C.’s Constellation Theatre through Nov. 18, but a super talented cast will have you lining up tickets for this dynamic show.
Ably directed by Constellation Director Michael J. Bobbitt, the musical is missing much of the glitz of the Elton John/Tim Rice Broadway production, but that doesn’t keep the show’s 14 cast members from delivering a winning and emotionally moving experience. In the Source’s small and intimate space, the audience is able to deeply connect with the actors and the story line about a Nubian princess who is captured and enslaved by an Egyptian Army captain who falls in love with her, despite being betrothed to the pharaoh’s daughter.
What makes the show work is simply the outstanding acting and glorious singing. As the enslaved Aida, Shayla S. Simmons is regal and fearless and, with solos such as “The Past is Another Land” and “Easy as Life,” knocks the ball miles out of the park. Jobari Parker-Namdar is the passionate and cocky captain Radames whose vocals on “Elaborate Lives” and “Fortune Favors the Brave” is equally impressive. The chemistry between the two lights up scenic and lighting designer A.J. Guban’s triangular shaped stage that is creatively used to the fullest.
Other standouts in the cast include Chani Werely as the Egyptian princess Amneris who brings a delightfully comic touch to the show. As the vain fashionista engaged for nine years to a reluctant Radames, Werely’s delivery of the opening song “Every Story is a Love Story” shows off a beautiful voice that also can belt it out. An example is her lead on “My Strongest Suit,” a show-stopper, which allows her to show off Kenann M. Quander’s shimmering and stylish costumes.
Da’Von Moody plays the role of Mereb, an enslaved Nubian who is a servant to Radames, and Moody gets to shine during the moving ballad, “How I Know You,” performed with Simmons in the scene where Aida’s true identity is exposed.
The tension in the show rises during the numerous plot twists. When Radames offers Aida as a gift to Amneris, the two women actually bond and develop a friendship, causing Aida to be torn between her love for Radames. When Aida is viewed by her fellow Nubians who are laboring and suffering in the copper mines as a symbol of hope, she is torn between her duty to her people.
Oher twists include a scheme by Radames’ father, Zoser, who is secretly and slowly poisoning Amneris’ father (Kaylen Morgan) so that the clueless Radames can become the next pharaoh. Greg Watkins plays Zoser and is superbly demonic and wicked, and his big number, “Another Pyramid,” is one of the highlights of the show.
Another outstanding moment is when Mereb takes Aida to the copper mines to meet her enslaved countrymen who break out in song with the gospel anthem, “The Gods Love Nubia.” With its words, “We have to keep believing, though scattered and divided,” it is an uplifting and thrilling moment.
The turning moment in the play is when Aida’s father, King Amonasro, is captured and Mereb plots to have Aida and her father escape. Wendell Jordan is powerful and dignified as the king who demands that Aida give up her love for Radames, who is angry that his daughter would consider loving her captor. When Aida tells Radames, now planning to call off his marriage, that their union is impossible, their duet on “Elaborate Lives” is heart wrenching and as dramatic as Verdi’s opera.
For the show, choreographer Tony Thomas II brilliantly uses the compact space to inject a number of high energy dance scenes and Ryan Seller’s fight scenes are wonderfully played out.
Musical director Walterr “Bobby” McCoy, a Helen Hayes Award winner, conducts a terrific five-piece band that winningly takes on the show’s songbook of rock, pop and gospel, nailing the show’s sweeping musical orchestrations flawlessly.
In today’s divisive political climate, “Aida” is a testament to the power of love that can transcend race, war and politics against all odds. Although the play seems to end on a tragic note, the peace that arises because of the doomed lovers’ deaths says much about sacrifice and putting country first.
The play runs two hours, with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets, call (202) 204-7741 or email boxoffice@ConstellationTheatre.org.