“Aida” Escapes Starlight Heat at the Kauffman Center

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Nubian dancers take to the Kauffman stage in Starlight Theatre's "Aida."

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the current production in their summer lineup, Starlight Theatre takes a step out of the convection oven of its outdoor amphitheater and into the cool confines of the Kauffman Center.

“Aida” is a locally produced pop rock musical based on the classic opera by Giuseppe Verdi. This melodramatic tragedy is about a Nubian princess and her star-crossed romance with an Egyptian military officer.

The well-sung production is fairly engaging and more than competently staged, but never quite achieves the emotional resonance it reaches for.

The story opens at a contemporary museum featuring an exhibit of artifacts from ancient Egypt and Nubia. There, a man and woman exchange intriguing glances. One of the statues awakens and sings, “Every Story is a Love Story.”

We’re then transported back to ancient Egypt where an army captain named Radames (Paul Nolan) has returned home from Nubia with a new batch of slaves. One of them, a firebrand named Aida (Zakiya Young), fails in her attempt to escape.

Admiring the pluck of this smart, strong and willful slave, Radames presents her as a gift to his betrothed, the superficial princess Amneris (Chelsea Packard).  Aida’s talents make her popular with the princess, and her beauty, bravery and intellect lead Radames to fall in love with her.

Of course, Aida has kept secret the fact that she’s a Nubian princess. Although initially reluctant, she returns Radames’ affections, understanding that she can never reveal the truth.

The Machiavellian machinations of Radames’ ambitious father Zoser (John Anthony) ultimately brings tragic complications for everyone involved.

Young is well cast as the confident and seemingly fearless Aida. She also possesses a lovely voice and uses it to good effect on songs like “The Past is Another Land,” and “Easy as Life.” Nolan also has an impressive voice, well suited for the demands of the show.

But Packard delivers the best performance, ably handling the welcome comic elements of her role as well as delivering solid vocals.

One of the problems with “Aida” is that the score by Elton John and Tim Rice is generic and unmemorable. Both men have been responsible for great songs in the past, but their score for “Aida” lacks inspiration.

In addition, there is a decided lack of chemistry between Nolan and Young. This is particularly problematic for a show that depends upon engaging the audience in their romance.

The production values are fine (in spite of a few sound glitches), and director Mark Madama and choreographer Michelle Lynch mount the action with skill.

While the Starlight production of “Aida” is more than adequate, like the statues that line the show’s museum setting, it never fully comes to life.

“Aida” runs through August 12th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. Tickets are available by calling 816-363-7827 or by visiting www.kcstarlight.com.

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