She became a household name as a member of the Beyoncé-led girl group Destiny’s Child. But with her performance in the title role of The Muny’s 98th season finale of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida,” Michelle Williams proves to be a star in her own right.
The role of Aida is a familiar one for Williams. She made her Broadway debut in the role when she replaced Toni Braxton back in 2003.
For Monday’s opening night, Williams was met with a rousing applause as she made her final bow.
She and the ensemble were worthy of the ovation.
‘Aida’ is a story of forbidden love that manages to grow behind enemy lines between an enslaved Nubian princess and her Egyptian captor.
Their unbreakable bond shifts the atmosphere and rewrites the destiny of the lovers and their warring native lands.
For the music of “Aida,” John’s rock/pop ballad formula that made him an international star pays off in attracting a universal audience – which explains the musical’s phenomenal Tony-winning run on Broadway.
The Muny picks up where Broadway left off. Enlisting Williams to resume the role was the icing on the cake for the solid production.
She lived up to the hype in the title role – which she peppers the show with her signature soulful, gospel inspired breathy soprano – but the success of The Muny’s adaptation of “Aida” is a team effort.
Co-star Zak Resnick’s Radames gelled especially well with Williams’ Aida – and the two shared a vocal chemistry that matched the energy of their connected stage presence.
Broadway veteran and St. Louis native Ken Page was a crowd favorite with his brief, but impactful performance of Nubian king Amonarso. Meanwhile, Wonza Johnson delivered the type of performance usually reserved for breakout stars with his portrayal of the enslaved Nubian Mereb. Williams graciously gave him the liberty to flex his own vocal prowess on their duet “How I Know You,” and Johnson rises above and beyond the challenge. In addition to his strong vocals, Johnson’s knack for comedic timing made him the most enjoyable to watch among the supporting cast.
Director Matt Lenz created a wonderful cohesion for The Muny’s “Aida.” And enough can’t be said for the technical staff that makes miracles happen every week of the company’s summer run with respect to delivering the type of production value could hold its own against any full season musical theatre company.
Though one can only be amazed by the standard of excellence the Muny manages to deliver in spite of the relentless pace of its season, there were a couple of minor shortcomings in the production of “Aida.”
The dance sequences – particularly the opening and closing routines – could have used a bit more synchronization.
But the biggest hiccup lies in the presentation of Egyptian princess Amneris. Much of the character’s presence seems mix-matched for the overall theme of “Aida.” It could have been a part of the original Broadway show’s format, but inserting a character seemingly inspired by a Texas prom queen (big blond hair and all) as a pharaoh’s daughter, just didn’t fit. Taylor Louderman’s performance – which includes commendable vocals and authentic performance – is actually an asset. But the hair, costume and overall persona of the character as it is interpreted subtracts from the authentic experience the show otherwise provides.
The Muny’s 98th season closes with Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, which runs August 8- August 14, #1 Theatre Drive, in Forest Park. For tickets, a full schedule and additional information, visit www.muny.org or call (314) 361-1900.