- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A peerless example of leadership in action is not found on the world stage, but at a dinner theater in Columbia, Md. Aida (Felicia Curry), the Nubian-princess-turned-Egyptian-slave, could show the world and this country a thing or two about strength in crisis and the power of self-sacrifice in the musical “Aida,” enthrallingly staged at Toby’s Dinner Theatre under the direction of Toby Orenstein.

The music may be opera lite, but the story of a princess caught between trying to save her people and her love for a conflicted Egyptian soldier packs an emotional wallop. Credit a deeply felt, wrenching performance by Miss Curry as Aida and equally affecting acting and singing by Russell Sunday as the soldier Radames and Janine Gulisano as Amneris, the third side of the tragic love triangle.

Based on Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, the Elton John-Tim Rice version is a pastiche of Broadway belters, easy-listening rock ‘n’ roll and pop balladry. The score sometimes gives Andrew Lloyd Webber competition in the repetition department, as the songs tend toward the soaring tear-jerker again and yet again until you feel trapped in Celine Dion’s playlist.

Emerging from the sameness are a few standouts, particularly the catchy, ‘50s-style doo-wop of the splashy production number “My Strongest Suit.” It shows the fun-loving, shopaholic side of Amneris, who in the first act seems little more than a bubbly valley girl — the Nile Valley, that is. Miss Gulisano’s Amneris emerges in the second part of the musical as a young woman of unexpected depth and command, capable of true leadership when she is asked to make a punishing decision.

Other memorable numbers in “Aida” include the rousing gospel rhythms of “The Gods Love Nubia,” a call-to-action first-act closer that recalls a similar moment in the musical “Les Miserables”; the tender and searching love ballads between Aida and Radames, “Written in the Stars” and “Enchantment Passing Through”; and “How I Know You,” a song about recognition and honor tenderly sung by the slave Mereb (Alan Wiggins).

As is the custom with a Toby’s musical, the ensemble work is strong, with stirring choral harmonies and intricate footwork. JP Gulla is notable as Radames’ scheming father, and Leanto E. Jones’ brief appearance as a Nubian king makes an impression.

Miss Curry’s Aida beautifully combines the romantic with the regal. Although seized by love, she never forgets her duty to her people, and her commitment and passion for both give “Aida” a lingering majesty and poignancy.

***

WHAT: “Aida” by Elton John and Tim Rice

WHERE: Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (doors open at 6 p.m.), 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (doors open at 10:30 a.m.), 7 p.m. on Sundays (doors open at 5 p.m.). Through Nov. 20.

TICKETS: $27.50 to $46

PHONE: 301/596-6161

MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS


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