Elton John is no Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now, that can be taken as criticism or compliment, but it’s an unavoidable comparison when composer John’s name is paired with lyricist Tim Rice’s above the title of the Disney-produced mega-musical Aida.
The epic scope and pop-style of this retelling of the legend that inspired Verdi’s opera Aida is also terribly reminiscent of the Lloyd Webber and Rice collaboration that yielded Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. But even at his most derivative, Lloyd Webber pulled off soaring moments of melodic ecstasy that John’s score aspires to, but never convincingly reaches.
The Disney production team behind Aida overcompensates royally, covering an amazing expanse of stagecraft — eye-popping costumes, evocative scenery, stunning lighting effects — that’s impressive and enjoyable on its own accord. But, like the score and book (credited to Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang), it never gels in a cohesive tone that the ancient Egyptian-set, grandly tragic tale desperately needs.
Paulette Ivory does achieve some moving moments as Aida, the Nubian princess captured by Egyptian army captain Radames (Jeremy Kushnier). But neither Kushnier nor Kelli Fournier, as the Egyptian princess Amneris, realistically suggest the emotional growth their characters — albeit shallowly drawn — need to take the steps the story demands and to pull us fully into this romanticized theatrical realm.
Maybe John should’ve taken a cue from Lloyd Webber and “borrowed” some themes from Verdi to rev things up a bit. Hell, maybe he should’ve borrowed from Lloyd Webber himself (why would he mind?). It would surely be more comforting to see this Aida rely more heavily on the proven past instead of forging a path that’s all too likely, and too unfortunately, bound to be followed in Broadway’s Disneyfied future.
Through Aug. 18th in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center. Tickets are $20 to $79. Call 202-467-4600.