Theater: Hillbarn closes season with Elton John’s ‘Aida’

Giuseppe Verdi’s classic opera was the inspiration for a completely modern “Aida” by Elton John and Tim Rice. Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City presents the Broadway musical version of “Aida” from May 8 to June 8. The show concludes the theater’s 67th season.

The show, which premiered in 2000, features music by John, lyrics by Rice and a book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry-Hwang. It won four Tony Awards, including best score.

John once described it as “a pop musical with spoken dialogue and all kinds of recognizable song types: urban-based rhythm and blues, gospel-inspired songs, ballads and, of course, ‘Crocodile Rock’ songs.”

It’s the story of a Nubian princess — the title character — who is stolen from her homeland to serve Amneris, an Egyptian princess, who is betrothed to Radames, captain of the Egyptian army.

Alexa Ortega, who plays Aida in the Hillbarn production, identifies with Aida and her emotions. She says, “When Aida is captured and taken away from her home, she longs to be back in Nubia, missing her people and especially her father. Since moving here four years ago, I greatly miss my dad, brother and sisters who live in the Philippines. I am very surprised at how much love, fear, longing, sadness and passion I feel playing this part.”

Adam Barry, who portrays Radames, says the story is universal because of its complexities: “Though there are several layers of characters and circumstances to sift through, everyone can find a moment in this show that appeals to his own emotions.”

Although Radames is betrothed to the princess of Egypt, he’s taken off-guard by his infatuation with his captive, Aida.

Barry adds, “What I really adhere to in this character is his thirst for the unknown, first exploring lands, and thenhis discovery of Aida, unlike anyone he’s ever met before. One side of Radames shows him as brute, commanding, condescending, while the other is compassionate, vulnerable and giving. Being able to break past the hardened exterior is always an achievement.”

Jenni Daw, who plays Amneris, enjoys the modern twist on a historical theme; she also likes how the show’s clever songs really drive the stories of each character.

She says, “Amneris is a princess, very self absorbed within herself. I was surprised to see the many different layers that Amneris has, including her vulnerability, strength and caring side.”

Hillbarn artistic director Toni Tomei, who is at the helm of this show, says, “This has been an extremely challenging piece to fit into our space from all aspects.”

Choreographer Joe Duffy, musical director Greg Sudmeier, set designer Lee Basham, lighting director Don Coluzzi, sound man John Kowtko and costumers Mae Heagerty-Matos and Gail Farmer round out the crew.

Hillbarn is at 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd. Tickets are $26 to $34. For information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.

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