Henry Sibley High School's production of "Aida" has challenged everyone from the lead actress to the production team. But all the hard work will be worth it if the audience leaves happy, said the Sibley students involved in this year’s spring musical being performed April 15-17.
The show is a modern musical retelling based on the Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2000 with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice of “Evita,” “The Lion King,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame.
A large pit orchestra provides the unique instrumental soundtrack for the show. Eighteen musicians under the direction of pit director Clayton Browne supply the live music for Aida. Musicians include three on keyboards, two violins, three on drums or percussion, three on guitar or bass guitar, two French horns, along with viola, cello, alto and soprano sax and flute.*
Aida, a Nubian princess, is captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander, Radames, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the pharaoh. Additionally, Radames is betrothed to the pharoah's daughter, Amneris, and all three must choose between love and duty.
"Aida is a story of star-crossed lovers," said Daniel Hurlbert, film studies teacher and musical director at Henry Sibley. "Egypt conquers a small country called Nubia and the princess of Egypt, destined to be the upcoming pharaoh, is supposed to marry the captain of the army. The captain of the army falls in love with a Nubian slave, and as he helps her escape they are guilty of treason. The princess of Egypt then condemns them both to death.
"It's a comedy," Hurlbert added with a laugh.
""Not really," he conceded. "But it's a real powerful show. … It's kind of a rock show. The music is lots and lots of fun. Students love it."
The play, while probably unfamiliar to many in the audience, will win them over, said Patrick Ernst, who plays the male lead (Radames) and who has also worked on producing the background images.
"I think they'll like it," said Ernst of the audience. "It's set a long time ago, but the music is kind of contemporary. Just in general, it's a good play."
The show strikes a nice balance between modern musicals, which seem to be either campy or edgy, director Hurlbert said. "This is somewhere in the middle. It's a hard reality show. But the music is so upbeat, catchy and fun.”
Sophomores Hannah Kulus (Aida) and Natalie Kellogg (Amneris) play the two female leads. For Kulus, it's big step up from the non-speaking chorus roles she's had in the past to the staring role of Aida.
"This is the first time I've ever had lines," said Kulus. "Ever. Besides, like, little skits. I was in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ last year. I was just an extra."
Kulus has already mastered a one-line description of the show: "It's kind of like Romeo and Juliet in Egypt with Elton John music. So it’s pretty cool."
The show features some innovative technical effects as well.
"All of our backgrounds are video, are projected. It's more a multimedia type show with a unit set in the middle," Hurlbert said. "We did a lot different tech-wise, but it's impressive."
Senior Dan Kobler is in charge of designing and operating the lighting for the play.
"This is a very challenging show for the tech guys," said Kobler. "The fact that we're using a lot of different technology from some of the previous shows we've used. … With these we have moving headlights and different projectors and all that type of stuff. I think we have seven different instruments that we're using that are all kind of connected to the main computer, and there's 20 different attributes for each of the different lights.
"So we have to set the different attributes for each scene and you have to do that times seven, so 150 different things you have to set for each scene," Kobler added.
If You Go:
What: Henry Sibley High School’s Spring Musical, “Aida”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17
Where: Henry Sibley High School
Details: Tickets are $4 for students and $6 for adults.
*Information about the pit orchestra was added April 14.