‘Aida’ Wows Montclair State Amid Controversy

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Published October 27, 2016
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The Montclarion
Virginia Vass performing as Aida in Montclair State’s production of ‘Aida’ which was held from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 in Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Gena Adikin
Virginia Vass performing as Aida in Montclair State’s production of ‘Aida’ which was held from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 in Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Gena Adikin

Virginia Vass performing as Aida in Montclair State’s production of ‘Aida’ which was held from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 in Memorial Auditorium.
Photo courtesy of Gena Adikin

“Aida” was spectacular. The Department of Theater and Dance brought the acclaimed opera by Giuseppe Verdi, “Aida,” to Montclair State’s Memorial Auditorium.

The musical takes place in ancient Egypt, where Aida, an Ethiopian princess, is held prisoner. She lies about her identity and becomes a slave of Amneris, the Egyptian king’s daughter. Aida and the Egyptian general, Radames, fall in love, causing Aida to be conflicted between the love of Radames and the love of her country. To complicate things even further, Radames and Amneris are engaged. A tale of courage, love and betrayal ensues.

Protesters, gathering outside of Memorial Auditorium before the first few showings of the performance, claimed actors in the show were using blackface to portray the slaves. After seeing the musical, I can say that these accusations seem like they are mostly from people who have not even seen the musical. Many of these accusations were exaggerated or simply untrue. Some of the cast were tanned so slightly, to the point where it is not noticeable.

The only real problem was that the theater was not filled with more audience members, which this musical so rightfully deserved.

I had the pleasure of seeing “Aida” Sunday afternoon, and as someone who appreciates musicals as well as Broadway shows, I was blown away. “Aida” was amazing. Everyone in the cast put in so much effort into their roles and it shows.

The orchestra did nothing short of an excellent job. Additionally, this version of “Aida” had music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice. Using rousing rock numbers and heart-wrenching ballads as a way of making this play modern was really clever.

All of the actors on stage were magnificent. Virginia Vass as Aida was phenomenal. She portrayed every emotion perfectly, and her singing was fantastic. One of the best songs in the play was “The Gods Love Nubia,” which played right before the intermission started. Vass and the ensemble cast beautifully sang this song, and it was an extraordinary moment.

Ian Laudano played the part of Radames tremendously. He nailed the part of being a general, and I thought his chemistry with Aida was top notch.

Kristina Walz as Amneris did a spectacular job in her role. She does bring some comedy in the play, especially in her scenes with Radames. As a singer and dancer, she really impressed me. One of the songs that was a standout was “Dance of the Robe.”

Jason Smith, who played Mereb, did a great job, despite not having the same amount of time in the play as the main characters. He also had a song with Aida called “How I Know You” which was really well-done and catchy. Everyone else did an excellent job and the cast should truly be proud of themselves.

Another positive aspect of the play was that not once did I feel the runtime, and it was over two hours long. I also liked the fact that I had no idea what was going to occur during the play because, prior to this play coming to Montclair State, I had never seen any version of “Aida.” It was unpredictable, and I was intrigued to see what the outcomes of the characters were going to be.

A huge part of that is due to the brilliant performances and the marvelous orchestra. Anyone who is a fan of musicals, especially ones that are really well-made, should have capitalized on the opportunity to see this. It was done by people who put in passion and effort and it cannot be clearer. It is an excellent show that I am glad I got the chance to see.

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