Outdoor Theatre Tries To Go Indoor
Starlight Theatre Association
Starlight Theatre has been a part of entertaining Kansas City for over sixty years. Most residents have told or heard at least one story that involves sitting under the stars, getting caught in the occasional rain storm, enduring some KC heat or simply enjoying the random flights of the Swope Park Bats. But, what is Starlight without the stars, the heat, the rain and the bats?
This week Starlight presents Aida at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. This is not their traditional touring Broadway show but something they produced themselves locally. There are many goods and some not-so-goods with this particular position. Lighting is rarely a big factor in the first act when Starlight presents at its home in Swope Park. The sun is often a factor well into intermission. This of course is not a factor at Kauffman. So why were lights so often dim? I could not understand why a performer in mid-song would be dimly lit or have shadows over most of their face?
Juggling so many body microphones at once must be a logistical nightmare. But it was done well. My complaints come in the mix. I was sitting very close but felt like the sound was coming entirely from one speaker attached to the proscenium. Mostly it was loud enough, but it felt flat. It was not the full sound we have heard during other performances in the space. It seemed like the orchestra was being downplayed by the sound. It wasn't layered and vibrant which is usually what we hear from this group of musicians. There were moments when they showed a hint of this but once someone started to sing it fell away. I'm fairly certain this is a sound issue and part of trying to find some balance between the music and the vocal performances.
The set was gorgeous and did lots of interesting things. It was multi-purpose and had lots of hidden secrets. My biggest problem with it was its' reflective nature. From where I sat I could see the reflection of what I believe to be an offstage light. It was particularly noticeable when someone or something would pass in front of it, such as when the scenes changed. These shadows and lights were really distracting when I am trying to believe I am in an Egyptian slave camp.
Paul Nolan as leading man Radames had good vocal skills but was a little milk toast. He was neither dashing, bold nor dominant. Perhaps he gave up competing with the two women seeking his attentions? Aida (Zakiya Young) was regal and beautiful, and her performance was impassioned, her vocals in "The Gods Love Nubia" were inspiring. Chelsea Packard as Amneris showed amazing energy and charisma. She had the entire audience in her hand with her rendition of "My Strongest Suit". With these women on your right and left it would be a challenge to stand out.
There were some great performances in supporting roles including Justin Keyes (Mereb), who really seemed to be the heart of the performance and the key to moving the plot along. KC local actor Kip Niven (Pharoah) remained interesting in a part that as written only provides one note to play. It seems John Anthony as Zoser only brought about 75 to 80 percent of his energy to this show. He seemed a little bored and uninspired by this one dimensional villain. He only seemed to come to life in the number "Like Father, Like Son". In his defense he seemed to be the least lit of the entire cast and his microphone sounded like the mix was way off. His first number was barely heard by the front rows.
The Starlight Theatre production of "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida" runs through Aug. 12 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Call 816-363-7827 or go to www.kcstarlight.com.