Based on the tragic opera, Elton John and Tim Rice helped Disney bring Aida to the world of musical theatre, featuring beautiful but challenging music, and a story with some great moments and good characters. The show was a hit on Broadway and in its spectacular national tour. But if you didn’t catch them, no problem. You can catch a production just about as magnificent at the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix where Director Bobb Cooper and the group from Valley Youth Theatre has really outdone themselves.

Every aspect of the show is impressive – the stunning sets rented from Theatre League in Kansas City, the spot-on orchestra and musical direction by Mark Fearey, the lighting effects by Mike Eddy, and Karol Cooper does yet another outstanding job with the costumes, from the creative bathing towels used by the women along the Nile to the plain but good clothing for the Nubian slaves to the splashy outfits presented by the pharaoh’s fashion-conscious daughter, Princess Amneris. And then there are the actors in those costumes – featuring one jaw-dropping vocal performance after another. But it’s not all razzle-dazzle. They capture their characters and relationships, the comedy and the drama.

At the heart of it all is Jade Alexis Johnson as Aida – the Nubian princess who is captured by the troops of the Egyptian general Radames and taken back as a slave, only to fall in love with her country’s enemy and the betrothed of her new Egyptian friend, Princess Amneris. A junior at Xavier College Prep, Jade is an exceptional actress, a magnetic presence, and an incredible vocalist (her CD was available in the lobby, and sales looked good).

And with the addition of the other two leads, VYT scored a trifecta with this one. Both are college students – Rhys Gilyeat as Radames and Jocelyn Pickett as Amneris. Rhys is superb at mixing the strong and confident general with the romantic who falls realistically and completely for Aida. Jocelyn scores countless comedic points as the ditzy glamour girl who, along with her entourage, turn My Strongest Suit into an ancient beauty pageant, and yet still manages to beautifully capture the other side of Amneris – the one crushed by unrequited love.

Other standouts include Bradley M. Keene as the manipulative and murderous father of Radames, excelling both with voice and with the ruthless, self-serving character. Brandon Saenz does a nice job as Mereb, the Nubian slave who is more comfortable being crafty than being brave, and who sings one of the show’s strongest melodies with How I Know You. Jacqueline M. Rushing lends her outstanding vocals and sweet persona to the role of Nehebka, the slave who helps lead the others in support of their princess, culminating in the beautifully, powerfully staged and performed conclusion to the first act, bringing down the house with their prayer for victory in The Gods Love Nubia.

Performs August 8 - 24, 2008.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Egyptian: Cori Brown
Egyptian: Gavin Brown
Egyptian: Channing Cooper
Egyptian: Jordan Daniels
Egyptian: Lauren Devine
Egyptian: Rebecca Duckworth
Egyptian: Michael Frongillo
Nubian: Bri Giger
Radames: Rhys Gilyeat
Egyptian: Cooper Hallstrom
Egyptian: Bradley Hilton
Egyptian: Sarah Hollands
Nubian: Emmi Hoyos
Egyptian: Cecilia Iole
Aida: Jade Alexis Johnson
Egyptian: Kelsey Johnson
Nubian: Cameron Jones
Zoser: Bradley M. Keene
Nubian: Lacour Lavante Lane
Nubian: Quashadquantyre Lane
Egyptian: Paul Leighton
Nubian: Sierra Leverett
Pharaoh: William Marquez
Egyptian: Dallas Mogensen
Nubian: John Luke Osorio
Nubian: Olivia Perry
Amneris: Jocelyn Pickett
Ensemble: Paul Powell
Amonasro: Joshua Redfield
Nubian: Raven Robbins
Nubian: Derek Rushing, Jr.
Nehebka: Jacqueline M. Rushing
Mereb: Brandon Saenz
Nubian: Stephanie Stamas
Nubian: Yichao Wang
Egyptian: Stefani Wood

Director: Bobb Cooper
Choreogarpher: Sloan Bayer
Music Direction: Mark Fearey
Costume Design: Karol Cooper
Sound Design: Dave Temby
Lighting Design: Mike Eddy
Set Design: Jim Guenther, Provided By Theatre League, Inc., Kansas City, MO
Props Design: Ryan Marquart and Jay Africa


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