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Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang
Produced by special arrangement with Music Theater International, New York, NY

Plaza Theatre Company

Director – JaceSon P. Barrus
Assistant Directors – Kim Billins and Jay Cornils
Choreography – Eden Barrus
Assistant Choreographer – Alina Jennings
Music Director – Geno Young
Stage Manager – Lindsay Batt
Set Design – Parker Barrus
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Costume Construction – Izzi Cruz and Megan A. Liles
Lighting Design – Cameron Barrus
Prop Design – Soni Barrus
Specialty Props – Deb Dandridge, Mark Dandridge, and Stormy Arledge
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Set Construction & Build – Nolan Moralez, Jesse Bowron, Parker Barrus, Quentin Scott and Saul Ibarra
Set Decorating – Soni Barrus, Deb Dandridge and Stormy Arledge
Light Board/QLab/Turntable Operator – Lindsay Batt
Sound Board Operator – Clay Ringer
Backstage Crew – Hannah Shufelt

Aida – Kim Billins
Radames – Jacob Catalano
Amneris – Courtney Sikora
Mereb – Damond Cobin
Zoser – JaceSon P. Barrus
Nehebka – Nychelle Winters
Amonarso – Damion D. Rush
Pharaoh – Jay Lewis
Aida (Understudy) – Brittanee Bailey

Nubians – Trey Estes, Braedon Carlton, Nevaeha Wilson, Elizabeth Jemenah, Gabrielle Monet, Amaya Adams, Josh McLemore, and Brittanee Bailey

Palace Ladies – Rylee Mullen, Tiffany Hyatt, Alex Owens, Brisa Wattleworth, Baylee Arledge, and Madison Heaps

Soldier/Ministers – Cameron Barrus, Josh Monk, Sam Tarron, Carson Clay, Jonathan Tittle, Angel Somarriba, Josh McLemore, and Trey Estes

Lead Piano – Geno Young
Drums – Brandon Carlton
Electric/Acoustic Guitar – Parker Barrus
French Horn – Ryan Siler
Violin – Howard Geisel
Second Piano – Chris Wilson
Bass Guitar – Laramie Durham

Reviewed Performance: 5/17/2019

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall in Cleburne, TX transports us to ancient Egypt for a story of star-crossed lovers, told with pop songs and a modern sensibility, and do so with passion and style. The production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida: A Timeless Love Story, directed by JaceSon P. Barrus, is a wonderful night at the theater and a breath-taking display of talent.

The storyline for the piece is adapted from the famous opera written by Giuseppe Verdi and began life as a ‘concept’ album recorded in 1999 using various famous artists. Adapted for the stage, it gives us the story of Aida (Kim Billins), a Nubian princess who has been captured and taken as a slave to Egypt. Her Captor, Radames (Jacob Catalano), unaware of her identity, gives her to his future bride, the princess Amneris (Courtney Sikora), as a handmaiden. Attracted to Aida’s beauty, courage and intelligence, Radames find himself falling in love with her and she, in turn, falls in love with him. There is a subplot with Radames’ father Zoser (JaceSon P. Barrus) trying to unseat the present Pharaoh (Jay Lewis). We also follow the story of Aida as she is recognized by Radames’ Nubian manservant Mereb (Damond Cobin) and is presented to the other Nubian slaves, who see her as a savior.

Propelling this story is the music of Elton John and the lyrics of Tim Rice. The songs range from hard-driving rock songs (Another Pyramid”, “Like Father, Like Son”), to romantic pop ballads (“Elaborate Lives”, “Written in the Stars”) to out-and-out camp (“My Strongest Suit”) to soul stirring anthems (“The Gods Love Nubia”). Ably played by a live band under the direction of Geno Young, the music was the backbone to this strong production.

The dialogue of the play has a more modern feel than one would expect from a story set in ancient Egypt and that is the point. The story of love triumphant no matter the cost is one that resonates through all cultures and generations. The relationship between Aida and Amneris, for example, is one of friendship and respect and when Amneris discovers that her fiancé Radames and Aida are in love, her reaction is not jealousy, but a more modern acceptance of the value of true love. But none of the modernization gets in the way of the power of the story.

Plaza Theatre has a lovely home at Dudley Hall. With comfortable seats surrounding the stage area, set designer Parker Barrus, with ingenious simplicity, takes us to a museum of Egyptian antiquity at the beginning of the show which then transforms to Nubia and a ship and the halls and gardens of ancient Egypt with the use of minimal set pieces. This makes the many set changes fast and seamless and enhances the overall pace of the show. And director JaceSon P. Barrus has managed a large cast in this space with great creativity. With a large rectangular platform set on a turntable in the center of the space, Mr. Barrus has taken a sprawling cast and created lovely moments of majesty and intimacy for each member of the audience surrounding the stage.

Costume designer Tina Barrus obviously had fun with the costumes. From Aida’s elegantly simple dresses to the high fashion of the princess Amneris’ wardrobe, the women’s dresses, with one or two exceptions, are beautiful. The men’s costumes are a little bit of a mixed bag. The Nubian men’s costumes are either the satin of a house slave to the lived-in look of the hard-working slave and all are natural and effective. The black tunics of the soldiers used to represent armor undermine the menace of the Egyptian army by emphasizing the slope of the shoulder and, particularly in the case of Radames, they poof out a little bit around the waist giving the appearance of a pot belly and a large bottom, of which neither are the case for the actor. The Egyptian men, with the exception of the colorfully elaborate attire of the Pharaoh, are dressed in black (Zoser’s black smock sports a red symbol on the chest emphasizing the totalitarian nature of his plan against the Pharaoh) while the Nubian men are in colors or neutrals, letting us know who we should be rooting for. But this is a tiny quibble on my part and does not detract from the excellence of the production.

Choreographer Eden Barrus and assistant choreographer Alina Jennings brought excitement and joy to the dance numbers. Utilizing the theatre-in-the round with skill, they brought the pageantry and passion of the story to life. And the athleticism in some of the numbers was amazing to watch. The lighting, designed by Cameron Barrus provided the appropriate mood, be it aching intimacy or the blazing glare of the field of battle.

The title character is under a lot of pressure to match the splendor around her and Kim Billins’ Aida soars above it all. She is such a skilled actor, artfully showing us the depth of her love and the strength of her courage as well as her doubt and despair. And Ms. Billins has a voice that can carry us above the clouds with joy and can dash us to the earth with sadness. In the playbill she cites Aida as being one of her dream roles. It is the audience’s dream come true watching her perform. She is among the strongest performers in the cast and the beating heart of this production.

The performance of Jacob Catalano as Radames on opening night was a little stiff. In the beginning, when the Egyptians are raiding Nubia, he had little of the fire and leadership one would expect from a captain of the guard. Much more authentic were his moments of tenderness with Aida and those were the times when he won the hearts of the audience. He has a pleasant singing voice though there are times, especially in the more impassioned musical numbers where he was tightening his throat and straining for notes, which caused him to hunch and undermined his physical power onstage. I attribute most of this to opening night jitters. Mr. Catalano’s basic character is solid, and I feel that he’ll get stronger with each successive performance.

Courtney Sikora gives the princess Amneris a cocky, playful air in the beginning of the play. Playing the spoiled princess awaiting the arrival of the man she will marry and indulging in her love of fashion, Ms. Sikora gives it her all. As the plot progresses Ms. Sikora, buoyed by her strong singing voice, shows us her longing for the love of Radames and the pain she feels knowing she will never receive it. Courtney Sikora begins and ends the show and provides much of the fun during it. Her performance will stay with you a long time.

Mereb, Radames’ Nubian house slave is played with sly shrewdness by Damond Cobin. Mr. Cobin gives us a picture of a man who knows how to get whatever he needs yet is willing to risk his life in loyalty to his princess Aida. His singing voice is lovely and unforgettable. Nychelle Winters gets several chances to showcase her great vocal talents, particularly in the stirring “The Gods Love Nubia. And JaceSon P. Barrus is appropriately evil as Radames’ scheming father Zoser.

And a round of applause goes to all the ensemble members who were Nubians and soldiers, and handmaidens and all the other parts needed that made this show so fun to watch. Your dancing and singing were the cement that helped keep all the parts of the production together. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. May each performance be as joyful and fun as the one I had the honor to see on Friday.

Thank you, Plaza Theatre Company, for the chance to see this wonderful show and wishes for a successful run. I also reach out to all of you readers out there, so you are aware of the chance to see something good. I know that for some of you Cleburne may seem like a long way away. But look at it this way. You’ll get to travel to ancient Egypt and back in one night and get to hear some great music and have your heart touched along the way. I would say that is time well spent

Presented by Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall
May 17 – June 15, 2019
Thursday – Saturday at 7:30PM
Saturday Matinee at 3:00Pm
305 S. Anglin St.
Cleburne, TX 76031
For tickets and more information call (817) 202-0600
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