by Alan Bresloff
I am pleased to inform you that the new Bailiwick Chicago is starting off its existence with a “bang”! I just witnessed a marvelous version of the Elton John-Tim Rice’s “Aida”, a love story that will make you think about your own life. This story with a book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang ask the question-“ Just what would you sacrifice for eternal love”?, and while this production doesn’t have the stars and the glitz of the Broadway production, it has the soul that the original lacked. A solid cast of performers, most of who earn their livelihood from normal jobs, embrace this script and score as if it were their own. Scott Ferguson’s direction is stellar as is the choreography of Gary Abbott and Kevin Iega Jeff. Bailiwick Chicago is using the stage of the American Theater Company located on Byron at Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, but due to ATC’s hiatus only being for the summer will only have this facility for a short time.
The set by John Holt works! Being a new troupe with very little funding, there is no massive budget in order to astound us with an actual museum setting, but as I said earlier, I will trade the glitz and glamour for quality and understanding, and yes, the soul that this company has brought to this tale of forbidden love. ATC has some major air conditioning problems, so be prepared for none- that will be safer and dress accordingly. The building is an old brick building with great heat retention, so I suggest, if you go on a day that is 80 or above, beach attire or at least shorts and short sleeve tops are the wardrobe of choice. Gentlemen, do not wear jackets and under no circumstances, even though it looks better, wear a necktie!
One of the problems with this type of musical is the music- often, theater companies feel that “rock” must be “loud”, often deafening- thanks to the sheer artistry and diligence of musical directors Jimmy Morehead and Robert Ollis, we are able to hear every lyric ( for the first time) and not leave the theater with a head or ear ache. In fact, this production makes you leave with a warm feeling that one gets from unconditional love. Remember, this is based on a classic Verdi opera and so we expect raw emotion, but in this production, we get more. We have wonderful voices, solid acting, beautiful dancing and a company that once is reestablished will be able to offer some heavy competition for the non-Equity Jeff awards.
Being a lower budget show, one might think that skimp is the word of the day, and in some case, they had no choice, but costumes is one place where they truly did a masterful job. The robe designed by Nina Henderson for the “Dance of The Robe Number” was glorious and the fashion show in the first act, “My Strongest Suit” were amazing, almost as if we were at one of these New York designer shows- great work by Maria Danae Mandis, Emily Rohm, Christina Telkamp and Kevin Vong- BRAVO! Ricky Lurie handled the rest of the costumes and did a splendid job with only one exception- some of the men’s shorts were way too modern ( Call George Garcia at Fantasy Costume next time and mention my name).
This production, a major undertaking for a company to pick as a first musical is mind boggling! Despite lots of heat, problems with some of the lights (due to the intense heat) and some other minor tech problems, They were “Right on!”. Every little change of set was quietly done, in fact, almost unnoticed and Frank Mares projections added to the wonderfulness of the overall production. I am often accused of mentioning the props people more often than anyone else, but when I see the number of props that Lee Strausberg had to assemble, amass or build, it deserves to be mentioned. Great job!
And now, the cast! Wow! Radames ( newcomer to the area Brandon Chandler is a winner), a high ranking Egyptian soldier, betrothed to the daughter of the Pharaoh (Damien K. Crim), Amneris ( the enchanting Adrianna Parson) captures a Nubian , Aida ( who unknown to him is the daughter of Nubia’s King) who he falls in love with. Rashada Dawan, handles this role with the spirit it was intended to be. She doesn’t tell him who she is and doesn’t give in to his every whim. She is a special woman who loves her family and her country more than life itself. AS they find themselves falling in love, they are forced to decide what is more important- their country? Their family? Their love?
The rest of this ensemble of players, most taking on more than one role is truly a pleasure to watch and to hear, their voices blend perfectly allowing every note to help deliver the message. Aaron Holland, Bob Pries,Daisica Smith,Randolph Johnson,Desla Epsilon, Desmond Gray,Andriana Pachella,Varris Holmes, William Barney Daryn Harrell, Pierre Clark, Adriene Patrice barber,Chip Payos, Tommy Rivera, Karla Dionne Victum and Kylah Williams- thank you all for making this a wonderful experience. For those of you who are ready to partake of the same experience, you only have until August 1st, so I wouldn’t put this one off.
The performance schedule is: Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $25-$35 and are probably one of the best theater values in town. Call 866-811-4111 to order yours or go online at www.bailiwickchicago.com. It is great to see the name Bailiwick live on and a new tradition start in Chicago.