‘Aida’ Takes Center Stage at Montclair State

By Awije Bahrami, Entertainment Editor

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Choreographer Todd Underwood, left, and director Gary John La Rosa, right, at a rehearsal for ‘Aida’ Photo by Awije Bahrami
Choreographer Todd Underwood, left, and director Gary John La Rosa, right, at a rehearsal for “Aida”
Photo by Awije Bahrami

“What’s so interesting about seeing the production is that it is actually very relevant to today in terms of countries at war with each other and how they treat each other and the oppression of people,” said Gary John La Rosa, the director of “Aida” and an adjunct professor at Montclair State, who also directed the scandalous but successful production of “Hair” in the spring semester of 2015.

“Aida” revolves around the enslaved Aida, an Ethiopian princess, who was captured by the Egyptians. Ramedes, an Egyptian military commander, is torn between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To make matters more complicated, the Pharaoh’s daughter is in love with Ramedes, who does not return her feelings. Drama, passion and tragedy unfold from there.

The show starts in the present day and then goes back in time to ancient Egypt. Then at the end of the show it returns back to the present day. It shows the bridging of modern and ancient times.

According to La Rosa, working on a production like this involves a lot of research.

“We’ve done a lot of research about ancient Egypt and whether or not the story is true,” La Rosa said.

He came to the conclusion that some of the plotlines of Aida could have played out in real times, since the warring factions in Africa and the Pharaohs who desperately held onto their positions and were often murdered and overthrown were a reality in ancient Egypt. In “Aida,” some of these elements play into the plot line.

While the technologies used are not new in the industry, some of it is new to the university.

Students working on the set of "Aida" Photo by Awije Bahrami
Students working on the set of “Aida”
Photo by Awije Bahrami

“We have a lot of new lighting equipment that is being implemented into the production,” said La Rosa.

The lighting in the show plays a big role in its visual spectacle. Some of the scenes flow almost cinematically from one scene to another. In most musicals, a scene ends and the lights go out and the next scene starts. In this production, a lot of the scenes actually flow from one to the other. This is done with staging, choreography and lights.

La Rosa’s passion for the theater started from the time he was a little boy. He was born in New York and grew up on Long Island. He always studied theater, dance and acting in university as well as privately wherever he could. He graduated from University of California, Los Angeles.

For the first 15 years of his life La Rosa was a performer. He has worked on Broadway, on national and international shows.

“I did everything from acting on soap operas to dancing in Las Vegas,” said La Rosa. His change of career came after a national tour for a production of “A Fiddler on the Roof.” “When it was over I made the decision that I wanted to be more involved and more creativity challenged in my work.”

La Rosa decided to give up performing and try to work full-time as a director and choreographer.

When asked what he expects from his actors and production team, La Rosa answered “A lot.” La Rosa, choreographer Todd Underwood and musical director Greg Dlugos have set the bar really high.

Students were involved in multiple aspects of the set construction for "Aida" Photo by Awije Bahrami
Students were involved in multiple aspects of the set construction for “Aida”
Photo by Awije Bahrami

“We not only want to put on a good production, but also [want] the students to learn about professional theater and how it operates, [we] expect a lot both in the professionalism of the cast in rehearsal as well as in trying to reach the highest possible caliber in performance,” said La Rosa.

La Rosa did not hear of the ranking by OneStage that declared the BFA Dance program at Montclair State to be the 5th best dance program in the country.

However, he was not surprised by it.

“The students here are well trained and it helps that they are in close proximity to NYC. The university has wonderful faculty and the caliber of students is quite high,” said La Rosa.

La Rosa added the musical is a favorite for many theater and opera lovers.

“This is a story that has endured for centuries, because people find the love story so beautiful, so dramatic, so moving” said La Rosa.

The department of Theater and Dance will be putting on the production of “Aida” from Oct. 19-23 in Memorial Theater at Montclair State University.

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