Beyond black and white: In musical 'Aida,' love transcends time and culture
For a story about immortal love, "Aida" itself is appropriately timeless.
Based on Giuseppe Verdi's 19th-century opera, Elton John and Tim Rice's award-winning adaptation breathes new life into the story of Egyptian prince Radames and enslaved Nubian princess Aida, who transcend their disparate backgrounds and develop a love that spans centuries.
John Luther, director of Stagecrafters' new presentation of the musical, spoke with The Detroit News about "Aida's" enduring appeal.
Q: This story has been around in various forms for two centuries. What is it about it that people still connect with?
A: The idea that love can transcend time I think is absolutely wonderful. Those of us who've ever been in love would like to believe that even after death, love goes on. The idea that our spirits can go on in some form is very cool. I think also the idea that even in difficult circumstances people can still find each other and love each other is an amazing thing. Regardless of how the story is being told, either on a conscious or subconscious level, those are the things I think people are attracted to.
Q: The two protagonists have a relationship together that lasts centuries. What initially draws them together?
A: Sometimes when you meet someone there's chemistry, and I think that is a very real thing. When Aida and Radames first meet, there's an actual spark. I also think that over time they grow to respect each other. When you have people who are supposed to hate each other who learn to respect each other, that can resolve in love.
Q: The music in "Aida" is all over the map. Can you talk about some of the different styles the musical presents?
A: I think the eclecticism is so much fun to play with. Obviously there's a straightforward Broadway sound that can come out, but it's all stamped by Elton John. Stylistically there's pop, reggae, rock, African-infused rhythms, all sorts of Middle Eastern and East Indian rhythms, and blues. He just went to town and had a good time.
Q: How will this production differ from other performances of "Aida" people may have seen, on- or off-Broadway?
A: What I wanted was to go beyond the black and white exploitation people identify with this story. All the Egyptians are supposed to be lighter and all of the Nubians are supposed to be darker. I really wanted to go beyond that and explore that people are enemies and they're the same color. This isn't a show about race, it's about people who are in love who happen to be from two warring countries.
This was partly a reaction to Ferguson. There are problems in our country in terms of racism, but there are so many people who are moving beyond that who look at what happened and see it's not about race. It's about socioeconomic status, it's about opportunity, it's about examining why we continue to allow people getting stabbed. I don't think people are going to walk away from the show and think they've changed their minds about race in America, but I hope that they at least on some level start to rethink how we're related to each other and why race doesn't need to have anything to do with it at all.
Q: What choices did you make to convey that idea?
A: The people playing the leads in this show are all people of color. People who are familiar with the show looked at my casting and were like, 'Wow, that's an interesting choice.' [Laughs]. To me it was a very good choice. I didn't want to get hung up on race. Race has nothing to do with what's going on with these people.
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
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