The Marquee Theater Company is a young troupe that has just opened its first production — Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida — in its new home at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre.
That’s the high school auditorium where Slow Burn Theatre, which will soon begin its next chapter at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, rocketed to success in just a few years. Will South Florida history repeat itself with Marquee? Only time and a track record will tell.
Founders Andrew Shultz and Ben Solmor are the brains and talent behind Marquee. Shultz serves as the director of Aida, Solmor as its choreographer and one of its athletic dancers. The talent is just-starting-out fresh — two of its three leads are making their professional debuts — but well-trained via college, university, high school and conservatory programs.
Aida is a new interpretation of the 1871 opera Giuseppe Verdi composed to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal, but this Broadway show was more directly inspired by a children’s book version of the story written by soprano Leontyne Price. The show underwent many revisions and growing pains on its way to New York — Beauty and the Beast writer Linda Woolverton, director Robert Falls and playwright David Henry Hwang are all credited with the book — but had an impressive 1,852-performance run from 2000 to 2004, winning four Tony Awards including best score.
With its love-triangle story and Elton John’s blend of soaring ballads, anthems and ingratiating melodies, Aida has had a healthy Broadway afterlife. Its blend of tragedy, political strife and romance has won it plenty of passionate fans, many of them in the Marquee audience on opening night, boisterously cheering after every song.
In truth, the music is superior to many of Rice’s lyrics and the written/rewritten book. In the name of humor or audience appeal, it contains deliberate anachronisms, such as making the Egyptian princess Amneris (Darcy Hernandez) a clothing-obsessed shallow gal who stars in a Vegas-style fashion show with her handmaidens. Think Project Runway: Ancient Egyptian Edition.
The counterpoint to flighty Amneris is serious Aida (Alexandria Lugo), a Nubian beauty captured by the warrior Radames (Bruno Faria), who has been betrothed to the impatient Amneris for nine years. As it happens, Aida is royalty too, but she chooses to keep her identity a secret to help protect her fellow enslaved countrymen.
Amneris finds herself drawn to Aida, who seems to understand her in a way few others do. Radames, too, becomes captivated by the spirited, intense woman he has presented to his fiancee as a “gift.” Soon enough, Aida reciprocates his feelings, ensuring that their final destination will be an Egyptian tomb.
The greatest strength in Marquee’s Aida flows from the voices of its three leads. Faria, who was so memorable as Clyde Barrow in Slow Burn’s Bonnie & Clyde, sings passionate duets with the fierce Lugo on Elaborate Lives and Written in the Stars. Hernandez brings gravitas to Every Story Is a Love Story and comic flair to Amneris’ broad early scenes. It’s clear that all three actors have promising careers ahead of them.
They’re ably supported by Nathan Mays as Radames’ scheming father Zoser, Elijah Word as Aida’s protector Mereb, Robert Geils as the slowly dying Pharoah, Victoria Anderson as the self-sacrificing Nehebka, and a large ensemble.
The production itself, with musical direction by Phil Hinton and sets by Mike Versetti, is in that vast middle ground between stellar and disappointing.
It would be better, for example, to pair those fine young voices with the work of live musicians. Solmor’s challenging, athletic choreography at times seems overly busy and fussy. The fashion show outfits look like they came from a not-very-upscale prom dress department, and as striking as the slender Lugo is in Aida’s sleek outfits, her “reincarnated” gown looks more appropriate for attending the Met Gala than touring the museum’s Egyptian exhibition.
Still to come from Marquee in its eclectic first season of musicals at West Boca are Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World (Dec. 11-20), Jekyll & Hyde (Jan. 29-Feb. 7) and Footloose (April 29-May 8). It will be interesting watch how the company nurtures new talent — and how Marquee itself evolves.
If you go
What: ‘Aida’ by Elton John and Tim Rice.
Where: Marquee Theater Company production at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre, 12811 Glades Rd., Boca Raton.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 4.
Cost: $28 ($18 students).
Information: 954-464-8249 or www.marqueetheatercompany.com.