John’s late-career switch to Broadway tunesmith seems inspired in retrospect. Along with The Lion King and Billy Elliot, this pop-opera treatment of Verdi proves that the former Reginald Dwight can handily transfer the emotional and dramatic sweep of his best singles to the stage. True, with the roiling synthesizer arpeggios and swirling melismata of such songs as “Elaborate Lives,” Aida sometimes seems a step away from Trapped in the Closet: The Musical! And the storytelling turns perfunctory at key moments; the climactic scene in the Pharaoh’s court, for instance, piles on plot turns with a blithe disregard for plausibility.
But it is opera, after all; this love story between a Nubian slave and an Egyptian captain never relied on probability as its main selling point. Bailiwick’s production convincingly hits the ariatic moments of John and Rice’s adaptation: the unveiling of Aida’s technicolor dreamskirt, the first-act closer in which Egypt’s slaves await a brighter future, the lovers’ heartbreaking fate. As spurned princess Amneris, Parson generates real star power. Her early stylized self-absorption reads something like a Disney villainess as voiced by Tyra Banks, while she easily overleaps the plot holes on the way to her character’s second-act turnaround. Chandler, playing the stalwart, lovelorn captain Radames, acts stiffly but sings divinely. And Dawan anchors this low-frills, high-octane production with an earthy, powerful take on the title role.