April 2013.By American Theatre—Theatre Communications Group.
Peter Rothstein, DIRECTION: One thing I loved about the Broadway production of Aida was that it began and ended in the Egyptian wing of a modern museum. There was something responsible about the framing device because Aida, the musical and the opera, was written from a relatively modern Western gaze. So I thought, “What if we took it further and the museum rearticulated itself throughout?” The exhibit pedestals [pictured above] became a way to transport props and artifacts on and offstage. The character of Pharaoh was a sculpture, an artifact, with a disembodied voice. For the final scene where Aida and Radames are buried alive, a stream of sand fell from above into a glass display case. I told the designers that at all times I wanted one foot in ancient Egypt, one in the modern museum and one in the world of rock-and-roll. It needed to look and feel as though a rock band was telling this story. So the microphone became a symbol of power, a weapon of manipulation. The Egyptian characters would step up to a mike for a moment or a song, while Aida and her fellow Nubians were given more organic means to express themselves.
Joel Sass, SET DESIGN: The venue for the show—the Pantages Theatre, a restored 1908 vaudeville house with very little wing space—was a big design influence. Any scenic architecture needed to be stationary, but still capable of evoking different moods. Just out of frame of the above photo, there are two 20-foot obelisks that were painted and textured to look like carved sandstone, but we made them out of a material that could be lit from within. During the big rock-and-roll moments, they would pulse with strobe lights or blaze with various colors. We placed all the scenes in the show within the context of the exhibit. A series of rolling museum cases and pedestals were fitted with recessed lighting powered by batteries and run with remote dimmers—they exhibited artifacts and delivered props. For instance, that central platform [above] sometimes held a human figure, a throne, or objects for the banquet scenes. One thing that Peter and I were excited about was keeping the band on view at all times. So behind that big painted Egyptian mural, which implied the relationship between the three main characters, was a five-member rock band, contained in a 16-foot-tall pyramid structure made of gold-painting lighting truss.
Ellen Roeder, COSTUME DESIGN: My partner Lyle Jackson and I went with the clothing of today but struggled with how to give it a Nubian and Egyptian feel. We tackled that challenge via color palette and clothing silhouette. The Nubian palette was earthy with gold, brown and rust. Radames [far left] kept his blue jeans and boots on the entire show. Aida’s robe [above] was made of batik fabric with feathers and beads to create that African feel. Even though Aida is a slave, she’s still a princess and remains true to herself, so we kept her in that dress throughout the entire show—a knit print in a Nubian palette with brown, gold and a little green. Lyle and I were worried about it being too strong and thought about giving her costume changes, but we decided to stick with it. This show was a constant struggle between “Are we doing enough?” and “Have we gone too far?”
Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida ran at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis Jan. 3-27, in a co-production between Theater Latté Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust. The production featured direction by Peter Rothstein; music by Elton John; lyrics by Tim Rice; book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang; musical direction by Jason Hansen; choreography by Michael Matthew Ferrell; set design by Joel Sass; costume design by Tulle & Dye (Ellen Roeder and Lyle Jackson); lighting design by Marcus Dillard; and sound design by Sean Healey. Opposite page, foreground from left, Jared Oxborough, Cat Brindisi and Austene Van. Above center, Van.