James Santos: Awed by Aida

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Photo by Chris Nelson

Tonight, I took myself out on a theatre date alone, something I have not done in a very long time, and I’m so glad I did. I attended Shasta High Music Department’s production of AIDA the musical. Aida is a rock musical in two acts based on Giuseppe Verdi‘s Italian-language opera by the same name, the scenario of which was written by Auguste Mariette. The musical was originally produced by Disney Theatrical, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and trust me, after working at the Met Opera, this version does not resemble the traditional opera in staging, style or sound.

As always, the group of parent volunteers (and some who no longer have kids going to the school) pulled out some incredible sets, costumes and some quick stage transitions. I must take my hat off to them; I know what hard work it is to find a group of people to make these things happen efficiently and effectively. On top of it all, I think they all are doing it still with a smile.

Yes, there were a few high school production moments I could have lived without, but remembering that Shasta High is a place for students to learn the craft and not have it perfected is important. In fact, I would say I have seen some local theatre moments that have not even come close to how well Shasta did tonight.

The largest part of my excitement about this production was brought on by three very talented students. In the role of Radames is Chase Buick, a senior at Shasta who I felt has strong potential as both an actor and a singer. He made me feel at ease as an audience member. Then, a familiar face to me was Alison DiBella, who was a cast member in “A Cascade Christmas” a few years ago. Boy, has she grown up. The number she sings in the second act prior to her wedding was a show-stopper for me; her voice is like silk. We do lose connection with her when they cover her face toward the end of her song with the wedding veil made of a heavy material. Hopefully someone catches that before the end of the run.

Last and not least, (in fact she sings more than anyone) is the girl with a gift from God, Madison Stanger. This girls rocks the role of Aida and this is not an easy task for a senior and (forgive me for saying, but a WHITE girl.) The role is usually played by an alto and, yes, an African-American woman. Madison, as young as she is, was able to break through the boundaries and, at times through her singing or dialogue, I thought I was in the middle of a sermon in the South. One thing is for sure, God has blessed her with a true talent.

I wish the cast a truly wonderful run of this show and I encourage all of you the catch a performance when you can.

Aida’s run continues with its final performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15. For more information, check out reporter Jim Dyar’s advance of the show. A media release about the production can be found here.

james-santosJames Santos is a Redding native. In 2003, he returned from New York City, where he performed with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and New York City Opera. As artistic director for the Dance Project, James made “A Cascade Christmas” a North State holiday tradition, now in its fith year. He is the Director of Dance at University Preparatory School in Redding and parent to a pair of busy tots. For more information about the Dance Project, visit danceprojectredding.com.

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4 Responses

  1. Avatar james says:

    One part not mentioned here is the awesome staff at Shasta, I know how hard y'all work, so thank you.

    Director Gavin Spencer, Assistant Director Hillary Rogerson, Music Director Lou Polcari, Choreographer Becky Browning, Production Manager Ronda Nelson, and Costume Director the lovely Rita Simpson.

  2. Avatar Susan Daugherty says:

    I'm headed there tomorrow night and can't wait. I saw Aida on Broadway and it was amazing. It will be interesting to see this cast perform a show that is so visually stunning and emotionally compelling. The musicals done by Shasta High have never failed to impress me and I expect no less from this production of Aida.

  3. Avatar Jerry Hitchman says:

    As a high school football for 52 years, I feel that I have a certain level of expertise in evaluating talent – at least in athletics. In areas I personally consider very important, like "Responding to Instruction", "Commitment to Excellence in practice and games", and "Delivering under Pressure", the directors, the cast and the crew of Aida graded out extremely high. As the grandfather of Madison Stanger, I might be dismissed as a biased observer. I don't think so. I know she has a great desire to excel. Not so she will be praised, but because she seems to sense she owes the part she plays (whatever one she might have) her best effort. She is not "cocky" but believes in her God-given ability. Madi is a "winner". I summed it up for her as best I could after her performance the other night. As I gave her a hug, I told her, "If you were my QB, you just won the "big game"!

  4. Avatar Steve Fischer says:

    It continues to amaze me how well the students do every year. The talent and hard work all pay off in a truly spectacular show almost every time. I have to agree that all the singers and dancers did a fantastic job, the staging was great, and that the lead players are special. My special personal kudos go out to the members of the pit orchestra, who adapt to the changing demands of the varying shows and drive them as well as any I've seen anywhere. Band director Mr. Polcari always gets a professional performance from his musicians.
    However.
    This year the ensemble was really struggling, trying to make a silk purse, but they just weren't given much to work with. There was music of a sort with the story, but it didn't work for me. I'm not a fan of Sir Elton, and was willing to suspend my doubts, but I couldn't find a melody to hum on the way out of the theater. There was Mr. Rice's pedestrian dialogue, some odd dancing, and way too many long scenes of characters standing isolated and vocalising back and forth. I marvel at how difficult it must have been to learn so much that sounded so generic and, to me, so unmelodic. That made the 'half' of the show before intermission seemed extremely long and slow, magnifying the hardness of the theater seats. I was sorely tempted to leave then.
    As they say in sports, however, "Wait 'til next year!"
    I'll be curious to see what ends up on stage in 2011. I hope the next one doesn't cost a fortune just to buy the rights to perform it that "Aida" did, and I hope it's once again a beautiful musical whirlwind of sights and sounds, that I've come to expect from the Shasta High Music Department.