‘Aida’ Comes to Montclair State

The College of the Arts at Montclair State delivers a stunning and controversial performance of the unforgettable and heart-wrenching musical ‘Aida.’

The story of two unique princesses,Aida’ is captivating.

Photo courtesy of Peak Performances.

Aida opens with a mysterious box-like structure on the stage that glows with a bluish light. There is not much time to think about what it means, though, because the story is immediately very absorbing. However, the box, which is actually a tomb, will come back to haunt you.

In ancient times, the Egyptians and the Nubians are at war. A group of Nubians are captured and brought back to Egypt as slaves, only the Egyptians don’t realize that among them is Aida, a princess, daughter of the Nubian king. Radames, son of the Head Palace Guard, immediately notices something different about Aida.   Her demeanor and attitude are more regal than other slaves. He singles her out of the group and makes her a gift to his bride-to-be, Amneris.

Amneris is a princess too, the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, who has grown up with Radames and is betrothed to him. Aida is essentially the story of two princesses and how their lives become entangled through their love for Radames.

The entire first act of Aida was wonderful.  Kristina Walz as Amneris, Ian Laudano as Radames and Virginia Vass as Aida were perfectly cast. Their acting and singing was Broadway quality, and these were not easy roles. Vass, especially, had so much to do as Aida, and made it all look effortless.

Walz was especially good in the song “My Strongest Suit” when she sings about how frustrated she is that no one takes a princess seriously. Amneris and Aida talk about the not-so-glamorous side of being a princess, the pressures and responsibilities that no one understands. I found this to be an interesting perspective. This musical was one of Disney’s broadway offerings and, while I love the Disney princesses, this was a unique perspective that I wanted to explore in more depth.   

Aida eventually reveals that she was captured by the Egyptians because she liked to go exploring outside the palace grounds. This reminded me of another Disney Princess: Jasmine from Aladdin. In fact, many of the dance numbers in Aida were reminiscent for me of Aladdin on broadway, with beautiful, energetic steps and colorful flowing costumes.

But if you were hoping for a Disney-style ending for Aida and Radames, you will be sadly disappointed. It may help to know that this John and Rice musical is based on an opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi. Operas rarely end well.

I did not enjoy the second act of Aida nearly as much as the first. It was not the cast; they were all superb, the music was great and the sets were amazingly creative. I just didn’t like the terrible fate that awaited these star-crossed lovers that I had truly come to care about! I spent some time trying to decide if their fate was better or worse than that of the legendary Romeo and Juliet. Before reaching a conclusion, I decided I just couldn’t bear to think about it anymore.  

One thing is for sure, though; the high quality of MSU’s College of the Arts productions continues to surprise and delight audiences. Tabitha Adams, a sophomore, said that she didn’t know anyone in the cast of Aida, but came out to see the show because she was assigned to write a paper on it. “This is the first show I’ve seen here,” said Adams, “and it’s so much better than I was expecting!”

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