* David Henry Hwang was added after the Alliance Theatre run as a creative consultant to help new director Robert Falls revise the show's book for subsequent (i.e. Chicago and Broadway) stagings.
Aida premiered 1 April 1996 for Disney executives at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York (which Disney had bought and refurbished). As with The Lion King, a demo recording sung by Elton John was made. At that time, a 1997 opening was aimed for. Auditions for children to be in workshops productions of Aida (and The Lion King) were held 1 June 1996. On 16 December 1996, another workshop production for Aida took place. One of the participants at the reading was Scott Irby-Ranniar, who then went on to play Young Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King.
While Disney continued to glow in triumph from the 13 November 1997 opening of The Lion King, Aida auditions were held on 8 & 9 December 1997 for dancers, and on 11 & 12 December 1997 for singers at Chelsea Studios. The casting call notices, which asked for modern dance and pop songs, stated a summer 1998 rehearsal start date, suggesting a Fall 1998 premiere. Another set of auditions were held 1 April 1998 for the Atlanta performance. The auditioning process continued in New York City during the first week of May 1998. The cast was drawn from Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.
Consisting of about nineteen songs, the show was tentatively budgeted at $15 million, and was aimed at a pop-fan audience. The Disney executives had qualms about calling the show "Aida" and continued to search for a different title from almost the start of the project. By early 1998, they finally settled on one -- Elaborate Lives.
Early on it was decided that the show would be directed by Robert Jess Roth and choreographed by Matt West, both of whom had worked with Disney's theater projects in the past. Linda Woolverton who, like the rest of the principal production team, had also worked on Beauty And The Beast was engaged to write the show's book.
Stuart Oken, vice president of creative affairs for Disney's Theatrical Division, began the talks between Alliance and Disney. He said Disney chose the Alliance because they wanted to be at a theater that was part of a community. Oken also stressed that Elaborate Lives would not be like previous Disney productions and that it would be more adult-oriented.
Peter Schneider, from Disney's Theatrical Division, said Atlanta would not necessarily be the prelude to a Broadway run. The future of the project would depend on its Atlanta reception. He did, however, say that if everything went well, a Broadway opening in the Spring was a possibility. Another qualification for a Broadway move, however, would be finding a theatre that could provide a stage with the required depth of 37 feet.
Thomas Schumacher, executive vice president of Disney Theatricals, like Oken, also said the approach to Elaborate Lives was different from that taken in the previous Disney stage shows (i.e. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King). He said the stress was placed on the story and music rather than on the spectacle of sets.
The set was designed in part with computer imagery via Imagineering, which is responsible for the theme-park attractions and special effects in films. The sets consisted mainly of a 10 foot tall pyramid which unfolded into triangular pieces that could be reconfigured to create the different settings for the show, and several obelisks with hieroglyphics which could rise out of the stage. The Alliance held an open house Saturday, 8 August, featuring a slide show of models of the set and Ann Hould-Ward's costume sketches .
The Elaborate Lives design team included scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and Ann Hould-Ward as the costume designer. The musical and vocal director was Paul Bogaev, with Steve C. Kennedy as the sound designer.
Rehearsals for Elaborate Lives began on 21 July 1998 in New York City, and ended 22 August. Then the company moved to the Alliance where they got to meet the set which had been readied for them in their absence.
On Thursday, 3 September 1998, Kenny Leon and Tom Schumacher treated the audience of a news conference to the informal presentation of two numbers from Elaborate Live -- the opening and Aida's duet with Radames. What was billed as more like the first full staging of the show -- described as a post dress-rehearsal dress rehearsal -- took place on Sunday, 13 September 1998. This performance was staged for executives and clients of Alliance's corporate sponsor, the NationsBank, and received a standing ovation. The previous day, Saturday, had also seen an invited audience which included theater professionals and Disney Chairman Michael Eisner. This performance ran a little less smoothly than expected when, in the middle of Act One, the pyramid failed to do anything other than leak hydraulic fluid across the stage. The remainder of the show had to be performed in concert fashion.
A special benefit performance of Elaborate Lives, in aid of two AIDS charities, was held on 16 September 1998. The pyramid only misbehaved for a few minutes during Act Two, and the show received another standing ovation. A second benefit performance was held on 11 October, this time for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
After the end of Elaborate Lives''Atlanta incarnation, Heather Headley returned to Broadway and The Lion King. Sherie Scott joined the new Kander-Ebb musical Over & Over at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia as Sabina replacing Bebe Neuwirth. The assumption that they would stay with the show was finally confirmed in mid February 1999 when their inclusion on the Aida album made their continuing association with the work clear.
After three weeks of rampant speculation among the press, Disney announced Robert Falls as the new director of Aida on 4 December 1998. Falls was serving as the artistic director of the Goodman Theare in Chicago, and had never directed a Broadway musical before. At the time of his appointment, Falls was involved in bringing his Chicago production of Death of a Salesman (for which he would win the Tony in 1999) to Broadway for its 10 February 1999 opening (previews began 10 January).
Bob Crowley was brought on board to serve as designer. Although a member of Paul Simon's team for the Broadway show The Capeman (1998), Crowley was primarily well-known in England for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.
Wayne Cilento, who received a Tony in 1993 for his work on Tommy, was announced as choreographer.
Changing their minds yet again, Disney reverted the title from it's elaborate form back to simply Aida.
The album of songs from Aida entered the limelight 26 January 1999 in London when the entire recording was played to a star-studded audience with the familiar figure of Paul Gambaccini hosting. It received similar treatment on the other side of the Atlantic in New York City on Monday, 1 February 1999. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart at 41.
The first single, "Written In The Stars", a duet sung by Elton John and LeAnn Rimes, was released to radio stations on Tuesday, 15 December 1998. They performed the song at The 25th Annual People's Choice Awards (broadcast on CBS) on Sunday, 10 January 1999. The song debuted on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart at 22, staying at the number 2 slot for four weeks and on the AC charts for 26 weeks. The single was released on 22 February1999 in the UK and on 23 February in the US. It debuted at number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart staying on for 10 weeks, and at 18 on the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart staying on for 14 weeks. The US single contains a second track of "Written In The Stars" sung with Elton John and LeAnn Rimes switching to the other's opening verses from the radio version, and the third and final track contains "snippets" from three other Aida songs : "My Strongest Suit", "Not Me", and "A Step Too Far". There were two UK versions of the single, both containing the "Written In The Stars" track, but one also had a live version of Elton John's "Your Song" along with an "Aida sampler" (as on the US single), and the other single had Elton John's "Recover Your Soul" and the alternate version of "Written In The Stars" (as on the US single).
"A Step Too Far" was the second single issued in the United States, for radio play only. It entered Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart at 25 on 12 June 1999 and stayed on the chart for 10 weeks.
Shania Twain's television special Winter Break which aired in the US on 3 March 1999 featured Elton John as a guest. After explaining about Aida, Shania Twain sang "Amneris' Letter" while Elton John played the piano. Elton John appeared on numerous US television shows promoting his tour and Aida: The Rosie O'Donnell Show (19 March), The Tonight Show (22 March), Late Show with David Letterman (25 March), The Today Show (25&26 March). At the VH-1 Divas Concert on 13 April 1999, both Elton John and LeAnn Rimes were among the guest performers. They sang "Written In The Stars" together, and Elton John also sang "Like Father Like Son".
To act as creative consultant in restructuring the show's book, Disney brought David Henry Hwang on board in June 1999. Hwang's previous credits included the play M. Butterfly.
Before opening on Broadway, as had been the original intention after Atlanta, it was decided the revised Aida would first play in Chicago and then move to New York.
Aida sported a 25 member cast. Equity and open call auditions for dancers who sing were held in New York City at The Raw Space on Tuesday and Wednesday 23 & 24 February 1999. Rehearsals (originally scheduled to start 14 September) began 20 September 1999 in New York and ran for about five weeks before the company transferred to Chicago 23 October.
Tickets to the Chicago production went on sale 4 June 1999. Ranging between $32.50 and $75, they could be ordered via phone at (312) 902-1500 or through Ticketmaster.
The second Chicago preview, Saturday, 13 November met with disaster when the set piece acting as Radames and Aida's tomb malfunctioned. At approximately 10.45 pm, the tomb fell about eight feet spilling the two actors contained in it onto to stage. Three doctors present in the audience offered their services. Headley and Pascal were taken to Northwestern Hospital to be treated and examined. A press release was issued the next day, saying that they had suffered only minor injuries and were discharged after a few hours. It said the show would resume on Wednesday, 17 November. Those holding tickets for the canceled shows, many of whom did not learn of the accident until they arrived at the theatre and found a notice saying the performances had been suspended, were allowed to exchange them. The scene was redesigned so that the tomb would remain stationary.
Aida played in Chicago until 9 January 2000. Aida then underwent further rewrites in preparation for its Broadway run.
In Disney's grand style, Aida's Chicago and Broadway homes were newsworthy in and of themselves.
For the Chicago run, the Palace Theatre at 151 West Randolph Street, was restored. It was announced near the end of April that Aida would be the first show to open the theatre after the restoration. The owners of the Palace, Fox Theatricals and Pace Theatre Group, brought in PalMet Venture LLC. Originally built in 1926, the Palace cost $20 million (raised from both private and public sources) to restore. With work having started over the summer, the expectation was that the theatre would be finished in mid-October 1999, with the stage completed in early September. Among the many changes to the theatre were the removal of the chandelier from the 85 foot high domed ceiling because it was feared it would cast shadows on the stage, and the creation of dressing rooms beneath the stage so more room could be freed in the wings. The proscenium opening is 58 by 28 feet, and the stage has a depth of 45 feet and a width of 110 feet. The Palace now seats roughly 2,350. The name of the theatre has been changed to the Cadillac Palace.
Those signed on board to work on Aida's aural presentation included : Steve Kennedy as sound designer, Steve Margoshes as musical director, Guy Babylon as musical arranger, Paul Bognev as co-orchestrater and co-arranger.
On Tuesday afternoon, 12 October 1999, the first group-sales presentation was held of the revamped Aida for 3,600 invited guests in New York at the New Amsterdam. It consisted of several of the show's dance numbers, along with performances by Headley, Pascal, and Scott of "Written In The Stars", "My Strongest Suit", "A Step Too Far", and "Easy As Life".
In mid-November Disney changed its mind about another feature of Aida -- the logo. After the Atlanta run, a new pyramid-based logo in black and gold had been designed to accompany the all-star album. The colour scheme was switched to red, and this logo marketed the Chicago production and appeared on Disney's Aida website and in their flyers about Disney Theatrical's productions. Although the pyramid was kept in Chicago, the website logo was changed just after Chicago previews began. Both the marketing for Broadway and the Disney website displayed the new logo of two faces against a deep blue background.
In early February 2000, Disney announced that it had formed a new company, Hyperion, which would be in charge of Aida and other more adult-oriented shows.
Sherie Rene Scott performed "My Strongest Suit" on the Rosie O'Donnell Show on 9 March 2000. Clips from Aida were also shown on Good Morning America on 17 March to cap off the week during which they had been airing interview segments with Elton John. On 22 March 2000 Elton John was on Rosie O'Donnell's show to speak about the show and sang "I Know The Truth", he also talked about The Road To El Dorado and sang "Someday Out Of The Blue". Heather Headley appeared on the Rosie O'Donnell Show after the opening to perform "Easy As Life", and the cast returned on 30 May 2000 to sing "The Gods Love Nubia".
The Broadway opening of Aida was 23 March 2000, after a month of previews which began 25 February 2000 (originally scheduled to start 27 February). It was attended by not only those involved in the Broadway production, but those who had been with Aida along the way -- including executives from Atlanta and singers from the all-star album. After the opening, the outside of the theatre was decorated with pictures from the production and a larger-than-life colour reprint (with more production photos) of an article from Time magazine, including a sidebar on Tim and Elton John.
The Broadway cast album was released 13 June 2000. Those who had placed orders at the Palace Theatre received a special "picture disc" version where the CD itself was emblazoned with a picture of the three principals. The album was nominated and won for best Musicl Show Album in 2001 at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards held Wednesday, 21 February 2001.
Barnes and Noble turned into an Aida venue over the summer of 2000. Heather Headley participated in a live online chat hosted by Barnes and Noble, on Monday, 12 June 2000, at 9 p.m. On 23 June, at 5.30 pm, New York City's Lincoln Square Barnes and Noble hosted a discussion with the three Aida leads and co-bookwriter David Henry Hwang.
On 4 July 2000, Heather Headley, Adam Pascal, and Sherie Rene Scott took part in the Operation-Sail 2000 celebration in New York Harbor performing selections from Aida.
Aida was featured in a Bryant Park concert 10 August 2000 as part of a concert series hosted by New York radio station 105. Heather Headly sang "Elaborate Lives", and the chorus sang "My Strongest Suit". The show received further press a few days later when it was featured on the popular The Today Show on Saturday, 19 August 2000. Heather Headley and Adam Pascal appeared on 20 October 2000 at My Favorite Broadway : The Love Songs to sing "Elaborate Lives".
In mid October 2000, Disney annouced that it hoped to bring Aida to Germany and the Netherlands through a deal with Stage Holdings for 2001.
The book about the stage production of Aida, Elton John's & Tim Rice's AIDA : The Making of The Broadway Musical, by Michael Lassell, was released in late November 2000.
Aida ranked third, and was one of only two muiscals named in Time Magazine's Top Ten list of Best Theater in 2000.
To celebrate and capitalize on the success of its three popular musicals (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aida), Disney vigorously launched an ad campaign in March of 2001 for Disney On Broadway On Tour, prominently evident on its website where information for a touring company is accessed by first chosing a show from the main tour page featuring all three shows rather than from the individual pages on each show's Broadway production.
The Aida national tour was first scheduled to stop at forty cities in total, giving the company a run until September 2002. After Minneapolis, further runs were planned for: St. Louis -- 27 April - 6 May (Fox Theatre); Seattle -- 12 May - 26 May (Paramount Theatre); Portland -- 29 May - 3 June (Keller Auditorium); Denver -- 6 June - 24 June (Buell Theatre). Aida is also planned to visit Atlanata, Austin (September 2001, University of Texas Performing Arts Center), Boston (March 2002), Buffalo (May 2002), Charlotte (February 2003), Cincinnati, Cleveland (March 2002), Dallas (September 2001), Hartford (28 May - June, 2001), Kansas City (June 2001, Starlight Theater), Los Angeles (November 2001, The Ahmanson Theater), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (February 2002), Providence (April 2002, Providence Performing Arts Center), Rochester (May 2002), Sacramento, Salt Lake City (July 2001, Theater Leaguye of Utah / Capitol Theatre), San Francisco (August 2001, The Orpheum Theatre), Tampa, Tempe (September 2001), Toronto, Tucson (Centennial Hall), Tulsa (January 2002, Chapman Music Hall), and Washington D.C..
This itinerary was revised to continue on until August 2002: Los Angeles (November 7, 2001 - January 5, 2002, The Ahmanson Theater), Tucson (January 8 - 13, 2002, Centennial Hall), Albuquerque (January 15 - 20, 2002, Popejoy Hall Center for the Arts), Tulsa (January 23 - February 2, 2002, Chapman Music Hall), Cincinnati (February 5 - 17, 2002, The Arnoff Center), Pittsburgh (February 20 - March 10, 2002, Benedum Center), Cleveland (March 12 - 24, 2002, State Theatre), Boston (March 27 - April 7, 2002, The Wang Center), Providence (April 16 - 28, 2002, Providence Performing Arts Center), Rochester (April 30 - May 12, 2002, Auditorium Center), Buffalo (May 14 - 26, 2002, Shea's Performing Arts Center), Hartford (May 28 - June 9, 2002, The Bushnell), Philadelphia (June 11 - July 7, 2002), Washington, D.C. (July 9 - August 17, 2002, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts).
On 17 August 2002 Aida celebrated its 1,000th performance on Broadway at the Palace Theatre.
The Aida US National Tour continued on into 2003, with the Fall 2002 / 2003 schedule as follows: Memphis (8-20 October 2002, Orpheum Theater); Raleigh (22 October - 3 November 2002, Memorial Auditorium); Atlanta (6-23 November 2002, Fox Theater); Norfolk (26 November - 1 December 2002, Chrysler Hall); New Orleans (10-22 December 2002, Saenger Theater); Orlando (26 December - 5 January 2003, Bobb Carr Performing Arts Center); Jacksonville (7-12 January 2003, Moran Hall); Charlotte (14-19 January 2003, Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts); Nashville (22 January - 2 February 2003, Tennessee Performing Arts Center); Fort Lauderdale (5-23 February 2003, Broward Center for the Performing Arts); Fort Myers (25 February - 2 March 2003, Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall); Tampa (4-15 March 2003, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center); Birmingham (18-23 March 2003, Birmingham Jefferson Memorial Hall); Louisville (26 March - 6 April 2003, Performing Arts Center); Indianapolis (8-13 April 2003, Murat Center); Akron (15-20 April 2003, EJ Thomas Hall); Columbus (22 April - 4 May 2003, Ohio Center); Green Bay (7-11 May 2002, Weidner Center); Lincoln (14-18 May 2003, Leid Center); Milwaukee (21 May - 1 June 2003, Uihlein Hall); Houston (4-15 June 2003, Hobby Center); San Antonio (17-29 June 2003, Majestic Theater); Costa Mesa (2-13 July 2003, Orange County Performing Arts Center); San Diego (15-20 July 2003, Civic Center); San Jose (23 July - 10 August 2003, San Jose Performing Arts Center); Denver (13-17 August 2003, Buell Theatre). This leg of the tour began with Paulette Ivory (who had created the role of Nala in West End production of The Lion King) as Aida, Jeremy Kushnier as Radames, Lisa Brescia as Amneris, Robert Neary as Zoser, and Eric L. Christian as Mereb.
Aida received its Canadian premiere when the touring company made a four week stop in Toronto. The show played at the Canon Theatre from 7 May - 31 May 2003. Paulette Ivory played Aida (following in Heath Headley's footsteps as she too had created the role of Nala -- she was in the original West End cast), Lisa Brescia was Amneris, Jeremy Kushnier was Radames, Micky Dolenz (of The Monkees fame) was Zoser, and Eric L. Christian played Mereb. Tickets for the production went on sale 3 March 2003.
Aida reached Germany in October 2003, produced by Stage Holding. The German-language production staged at the Colosseum Theatre in Essen starred Florence Kasumba as Aida, Patrick Stanke as Radames, Anke Fiedler as Amneris, Joel Karie as Zoser, and Lutz Ulrich Floth as Mereb. A cast recording of the German production was released 16 February 2004.
Yet another star turn for the Broadway production of Aida was the arrival of Michelle T. Williams, singer with girl group Destiny's Child, who joined the production on 18 November 2003 and gave her final performance on 15 February 2004. During her run, Mickey Dolenz brought his Zoser on to Broadway on 6 January 2004. On 17 February 2004, the next diva, in the form R&B singer Deborah Cox, took over the title role. Her casting had been announced a month earlier, although she had been in negotiations with Disney from December. At the end of February, she recorded a single dance version of "Easy As Life" called "Easy As Life - Theme From AIDA" (with some altered lyrics by Tim Rice). The tracks were produced by Tony Moran and Warren Rigg, with Lascelles Stephens as executive producer, and were later promoted by Disney on their website where they were available for downloading. On April 17th Deborah Cox and her Radames Will Chase performed three songs from Aida on CBS's "Saturday Early Show".
Aida's next global stop was in Japan where the Shiki Theatre Company's Japanese-language production of the show opened on 21 December 2003 at the Osaka MBS Theater (where The Lion King had previously played). The Shiki Theatre Company is responsible for staging many hit musicals, and had previously brought The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita to Japan. At the time of Aida's opening, The Lion King was playing at the Theatre de Printemps (Tokyo) & the Shin Nagoya Musical Theater, and Beauty and the Beast was playing at the Kyoto Theater.
Aida ran for 232 weeks and played 1,852 regular performances. The closing cast included -- in addition to Deborah Cox and Adam Pascal -- Lisa Brescia as Amneris and Micky Dolenz as Zoser. The final performance was attended by past cast members from both the Broadway production and the touring companies. Also on hand for the occasion was Disney Theatricals' President Thomas Schumacher who gave a closing speech after the performance, and members of the creative team such as Robert Falls, Natasha Katz and David Henry Hwang.
Aida proved instantly popular and before the Broadway show had even closed, three productions had already taken place and a fourth was already booked.
The first licensed production of Aida was by The Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre in Missouri and played on various dates from 23 June 2004 through 4 July 2004. The production was staged by the artistic director Michael Bollinger with lighting by Jonathan A. Reed. It starred Vashty E. Mompoint as Aida, Jenn Seracuse as Amneris, and Ryan Link as Radames.
Days later the second production was staged by the Wachusett Theatre Co. at the Foothills Theatre in Worcester, Massachusetts. It played from 15 July 2004 to 1 August 2004. Produced by Brad Kenney, Carla Mason and David Simone, the show was directed by Bob Dolan, with music direction by Fred Frabotta, choreography by Laurel Stachowicz, scenic design by Erik Diaz, lighting design by Jeff Adelberg, costume design by Brad Kenney and Janice Elliot, and technical direction by Kirk Paulson. It starred Angela Williams as Aida, Rebekah Turner as Amneris, Jamey Isenor as Radames, Jaime Cepero as Mereb, Chuck Walsh as Zoser, and Ashley Hopkins as Nehebka.
The third production was by the Barn Theatre in Michigan. The show was produced by Brendan Ragotzy, directed by Scott Burkell, and under the musical direction of Steven Zumbrun. Playing from 24 August 2004 through 5 September 2004, the cast included Karmine Alers as Aida, Brooke Evans as Amneris, Jason Workman as Radames, Joe Aiello as Zoser, and Arbender Robinson as Mereb.
It was announced at the end of August 2004 that production number four would be by the North Shore Theatre. The show ran from 26 October 2004 - 21 November 2004. The production was directed by Stafford Arima and starred Montego Glover as Aida and Brad Anderson as Radames.
German audiences again had the chance to attend Aida when the show began previews in Munich at the Deutsches Theater on 19 November 2005. The first night for the production was 22 November 2005 and it played through 15 January 2006. The cast featured Ana Milva Gomes as Amneris, Bettina Monch as Aida, and Bernhard Forcher as Radames. Presented jointly by Stage Entertainment and Disney Theatricals, the production became the first production of Aida in Switzerland when it premiered there on 19 March 2006 at the Musical Theatre in Basel. The production played until 28 May 2006 and then returned to Germany for a run in Bremen.
Over four years after the original production closed, Heather Headley and Adam Pascal reunited at London's Lyceum Theatre to reprised their Aida duet "Written In The Stars". The popular BBC Radio 2 show "Friday Night Is Music Night" recorded on 8 December 2008 was dedicated to the music of Disney, prominently featuring Disney's stage musicals. In addition to reliving their Aida moment, Heather Headley and Adam Pascal sang "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" from The Lion King and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin in addition to solo numbers. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the cast of The Lion King performed "Circle Of Life" and "One By One". Other performers for the concert who had previously appeared in Tim Rice's shows included Maria Friedman (Blondel, Joseph film), Matt Rawle (2006 Evita revival, Jesus Christ Superstar tour), Kerry Butler (Beauty and the Beast) and former Belle Ashley Brown who performed Beauty and the Beast's "Change In Me". The concert was broadcast by Radio 2 on on 26 December 2008.
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