By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The cast is one of Uptown's weakest ever (all the best singers were busy in WaterTower's Urinetown). In the title role, which she's played before at the Scott Theatre in Austin, Kia Dawn Fulton makes Aida simply too plucky and just a little bit of a pill. Protesting her enslavement, Fulton's princess juts her little chin in the air and plants her sandals firmly beneath her, but her posture lacks real regal grace. Fulton also sounds as if she's singing an octave out of her range. She visibly strains for the high notes on her big songs.
As a cabaret singer and crooner of folk-pop at a piano, handsome Gary Floyd is the best in town. But as Radames, who's supposed to be a commanding naval hero, he's too callow and unsure to be believable. He looks good shirtless in the billowy gauze pants, and that goes a long way toward selling tickets at Uptown (which already boasts a string of sold-out performances on the books for Aida), but there's something soft and unthreatening about Floyd that reads "best friend of hero" instead of hero himself. He also wasn't in the best voice on opening night, cracking badly in his upper register. And the chemistry between him and Fulton is tepid at best. Snaps to director Miller, however, for opening one scene with Floyd polishing his sword. We get it.
Cedric Neal, who has a fine singing voice, has a few good moments as Radames' second, Mereb, but the part is poorly written. His duet with Aida, "How I Know You," was the best vocal performance by anyone on critics' night.
Were it not for Patty Breckenridge, a live ringer for the dead movie star Anne Baxter (title diva in All About Eve), Aida would be as dull as the dust on Imhotep's mummy. But out comes Breckenridge as Amneris in a gold lamé toga, belting "My Strongest Suit"--"I am what I wear," she says with a bump and a grind. She succeeds at waking up the zombified first act with some hilarious eye rolling, hip wriggling and punchline punching. But just when we get used to Amneris being a sort of Bouncing Bimbo of the Nile, the script makes her switch gears and get all serious. At the end, Amneris has some really awful scenes with her father, the dying Pharaoh, played by Steve Iwanski made up to resemble Abe Vigoda with an upside-down umbrella stand on his head.
This being Disney and not Rodgers and Hammerstein or Verdi, Aida ends on a happy note. But the ending makes about as much sense as those Mardi Gras outfits. Aida and Radames, buried alive thousands of years ago, meet again as present-day museum patrons wandering among the very artifacts they might once have owned in ancient Egypt. Wearing matching khakis, they join hands, look longingly into each other's reincarnated souls and wander off to the mall to buy linens with high thread counts.