Elton John's pop music influences will be readily apparent for audiences when they sit down at the Keeton Theatre for a performance of his Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical Aida, directed by Ralph Gabriel for Circle Players. Using Verdi's classic opera as a source, Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice have created an accessible musical inspired by Motown, dance music, reggae and gospel.
And director Gabriel is determined to make this retelling of conflicting loyalties and star-crossed lovers a truly memorable experience for local audiences when the show opens August 10.
"It is a love triangle, and a powerful story," Gabriel says. "Radames is a man who is engaged, but he falls for Aida. The two feel compelled to be together, they just can't help it. I think it's one of those shows that just touch you."
Not only is Radames promised to another, but he is a captain of the Egyptian army, while Aida is a princess of the Nubians, captured and enslaved in Egypt. Radames soon is drawn to Aida's strength and honesty. Not wishing her to be treated as other slaves Radames arranges to give Aida to his bride-to-be as a gift. As Radames and Aida fall in love, both struggle with their loyalties to their nations and to each other.
LaToya Gardner, who plays Aida, said she is ready for the challenge of singing a fairly difficult score that covers so many genres, although she said she also loves Verdi's original Aida.
"I love opera; it's a classy, elegant expression of art. Of course Verdi's version is extremely longer than ours," she says, laughing.
And the addition of Elton John's music to the classic tale of Aida and Radames is a whole other story, Gardner suggests: "It's pop, it's rock, it has a touch of rhythm and blues, but I know we will do it justice."
Aside from the music, Gardner said her goal is to create a character that is believable and genuine. Aida is a leader among the Nubians, yet a vulnerable and conflicted character. For the two lovers, life gets in the way of something that should be simple and pure.
"I want to make her believable, but the hard part is to make it believable that as a Nubian, she falls in love with an Egyptian soldier," Gardner says. "Why can't people live in a world without being attacked for their way of life? That's what I want the audience to think about."
Both the lead actress and the director agree those themes-and the score-are what makes the show special.
"The music is just super. With this show, you will remember the music. You can sing it, relate to it, and hum it when you leave the theatre," Gabriel says.
Two dozen local performers, some of whom are new to Circle Players, will sing, act and dance in this show which is rarely performed in Middle Tennessee. The company also will strive to make the dances as ethnically and historically accurate as possible in relation to ancient Egypt. The cast will perform songs such as "Easy as Life," "Every Story is a Love Story" and "Written in the Stars," which became a pop chart hit when the cast recording was released in 2000.
The show runs Friday, August 10, through Saturday, August 25, at the Larry Keeton Theatre on 108 Donelson Pike, Nashville. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors ages 60 and up. Children six and under attend for free. All tickets are $11 on Thursdays. Group discounts are available by calling (615) 332-7529. Tickets can be purchased online at www.circleplayers.net or by phone (615) 332-7529. Individual tickets will also be on sale at the box office at the Keeton Theatre one hour before each performance.
Pictured: Lisa Graham as Amneris, Kevin Mead as Radames, LaToya Gardner as Aida/photos by Derek Deweese, DWRD Studios