Matt Carlson and Kel WilliamsA rock opera inspired by the story of an ancient Egyptian love triangle, and based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, is a wonderfully ambitious project. That’s nothing new for Northwest School of the Arts as they keep to their own tradition of pushing the limits of high school musical production. All involved certainly have my admiration, even if the musical itself has some flaws. To be clear, it’s more the result of the play rather than the talent involved. 

The music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice is eclectic with a mix of styles which makes it more accessible to general audiences who may not be familiar with what they perceive to be “high-falutin” foreign operas. Yet, the music and lyrics are not especially memorable. At times, the words of the songs in Act I were obscured by the very capable orchestra and band.  The singers, though, were able to convey by their acting the gist of what was going on in the story. 

It seems that in the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs, when raiding and conquering neighbors’ lands was all the rage, a military commander named Radames captured a group of Nubians. Among them was a feisty young woman named Aida (Kel Williams). She grabs the sword of a soldier only to forfeit it when one of her country women is threatened, but she wins Radames respect. Little does he know she is the Nubian princess. He saves the group by keeping them from going to the mines, and in addition, sends Aida as a present to Amneris (Emily Wittie), daughter of the Pharaoh and his soon to be bride (although they’ve been engaged for nine years). Radames father, Zoster (Ashton Guthrie) has been slowly poisoning the Pharaoh (Luke Pizzato) so that Radames will be Pharaoh when he marries Amneris. But Radames unexpectedly falls in love with Aida and she with him complicating everyone’s lives. 

The story, like any self-respecting opera, is full of deceit, passion, out-of-control emotions, betrayals, bad behavior, and choices that ultimately doom the lovers. 

Director Corey Mitchell has a knack for casting and working well with his young actors. Kel Williams as Aida is terrific as the lead character. She brings dignity and honesty to the role of a woman trapped by love and divided loyalties. Matt Carlson as Radames is bursting with potential since he is only a freshman this year. His portrayal of a soldier conveys a man changed by love. Emily Witte does well as Amneris, a character that changes the most during the course of the play. At first she is more comic relief, like an Egyptian Valley Girl obsessed with beauty and fashion, but later, though deceived, shows strength of character and mercy towards her betrayers. Kyron Turner is Mereb the Nubian slave who knows how to get things done in Emily Witte the palace and helps Aida. His acting and singing are right on target. Ashton Guthrie, (another freshman) takes chances as Radames’ ambitious father, looking at times like a Rocky Horror character rather than one from ancient Egypt, yet he brings energy onstage and is entertaining to watch. Luke Pizzato has to look sickly as the ailing Pharaoh, but gets to show skill in his outrage and sorrow over condemning Radames, who he thought of as a son. Nonye Obichere is fine in the part of Nehebka. Both male and female ensembles merit praise, too. 

The technical and music artists from the orchestra, to set design, scenic design, costumes, and lighting are all to be commended. I always enjoy the choreography of Eddy Mabry, and his work with the male ensemble here is especially well done. 

The overall work to put on this show is admirable, and the talent and skill of those at Northwest School of the Arts is impressive. 

Performed March 20-22, 2009 

Ann Marie Oliva

~ Cast ~

Amneris: Emily Witte
Radames: Matt Carlson
Aida: Kel Williams
Mereb: Kyron Turner
Zoster: Ashton Guthrie
Nehebka: Nonye Obichere
Pharaoh: Luke Pizzato
Amanarso: Rawle Harding 


Anissa Aguero, Ariella Akeza, Adara Blake, Kyra Gemberling, Che’mise Gilmore, Mackenzie Harwell, Liz Johnson, Jessica Markham, Audrey McGrath, Kristen McLaughlin, Noelle Mapstead, Lauren Perillo, Amy Rowland, Olivia Stofira, Renée Welsh Noel 


Robert Briner, Jaimar Brown, Andrew Griner, Jr., Jay Kelley, Chase McCall, Colin Moore, Cameron Selby 


Directed by Corey Mitchell
Choreographed by Eddie Mabry
Musical Direction by Matt Hinson
Musical Conduction by Michael Sanders
Set Design by David Ward and Corey Mitchell
Scenic Artistry by David Quackenbush and Travis Borror (students)
Costumes Designed by Barbara Wesselman
Lighting Designed by Andrew Fisher
Sound Design by Morgan Calma
Technical Direction by David Ward 


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