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Classical CD review


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

Aida: Original Broadway Cast (Buena Vista) -- Coming off The Lion King, Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) reunited for Disney's latest sojourn onto Broadway, Aida. There are surface similarities between the shows in that both have African settings and aim for something a bit exotic. However, the duo's Lion King songs, originally written for the animated film, benefited greatly from the addition of brilliant music by South African composer Lebo M, not to mention the visionary direction of Julie Taymor.

With Aida ("suggested by the opera," the credits say, without citing Verdi), John and Rice were on their own, and the score they labored on through several rewrites is underwhelming, though it won this year's Tony Award. It's in the mold of Jesus Christ Superstar, with wiseguy lyrics from Rice and a cheesy orchestra that sounds alarmingly close to a Holiday Inn lounge act. The patented John piano riffs are reminiscent of Crocodile Rock.

What make the cast album worth hearing are performances by a pair of rising young divas, Heather Headley in the title role as the captive Nubian princess and Sherie Rene Scott as an airhead Egyptian princess, Amneris. Headley gives powerful intensity to Elaborate Lives, the less than compelling theme song and the gospel-flavored The Gods Love Nubia.

Scott's showstopper My Strongest Suit, in which Amneris and the Women of the Palace do a persuasive imitation of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, has wonderfully silly rhymes, such as her declaration of fashion victimhood: "I would rather wear a barrel/Than conservative apparel."

The third member of the Pharaonic triangle, Adam Pascal's Radames, the Egyptian commander engaged to Amneris but in love with Aida, is the weak link. Pascal, who was in Rent, brings a whiny soft-rock style to a role that calls for a heavyweight. Still, Pascal acquits himself well on the best piece of pure theater music in the score, A Step Too Far, a soaring trio in which Aida, Amneris and Radames try to put their ambivalent feelings into words. Grade: B

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