The classic love triangle "Aida" returns to Traverse City West Senior High for an 11-show run.
Opening Friday, Feb. 24, and continuing through three weekends, Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida" features love and deception, politics and betrayal, murder and mercy. There is something for everyone in a performance that includes show-stopping music and dance numbers.
"It's very engaging — there's humor, love, loss — and the music is incredible," said Eric Fegan, a senior who portrays Radames, the male in the love triangle.
Reprising the award-winning Broadway musical seven years after it debuted at West, music director Russ Larimer said the voices and students were right to bring "Aida" back.
Also, after last year's phenomenal run of "Phantom of the Opera," the production team was drawn to something a little different.
"We just wanted to do a popular, upbeat kind of show and that one has got such great music and the parts fit so well," said Larimer. "Everything is upscaled (over the prior production) so our audience will appreciate the best of what Traverse City has to offer, including a very dramatic and high-end set."
The large production includes 101 students on stage as leads, chorus members and dancers, 22 in the pit orchestra and eight in the tech crew. "Aida" is the largest show yet for West, which has a rich history of tackling challenging musicals.
Erin Peck, the show's director, choreographer and lighting director, said last year's "Phantom" drew students to try out for "Aida" in November.
"Kids were saying, 'Hey, that looks like something I'd like to be involved in,'" she noted of the school's annual musical. "We had a lot of kids come out to audition, which was great. That's the thing that's most difficult: I want as many kids to participate as I can, though it is a challenge to have so many in the cast."
Peck also tapped a dozen dancers who attend West. The veteran professional dancer, teacher and choreographer created challenging numbers for "Aida" thanks to these girls' dance training.
"The fun part of it is I really get to use different choreography and use the rich technique that they get in class at their studios," said Peck. "The guys don't have as much training, so I get to be creative; I watched a lot how they moved naturally and choreographed off of that."
Chorale students involved in "Aida" are also preparing and rehearsing a challenging array of classical music to present during their spring break European tour. Keeping the kids on track while rehearsing two such different styles of music has been challenging.
"Elton John definitely has a type of his own, a certain singing style in the pieces that he writes so you really have to get your head wrapped around the style, it's an educational process," said Larimer. "I have to work with these kids past their classical training."
The high belting singing that is required for "Aida" can be tough, said Raizel Coiman, who is double cast with Esther Carey as the lead role of Aida.
"Lots of preparation and lots of practice is needed to learn the proper technique," said West Senior High senior.
As part of her interpretation of Aida, Peck decided to highlight the development of the third principal character, Amneris, the pharaoh's daughter and Egyptian princess.
"It really is about her journey from being so self-absorbed and narcissistic and how she is the one that was betrayed because her best friend, who is Aida, is involved with her fiance," said Peck. "She is the one that is hurt the most. But instead of being bitter and having that crash her whole world down, she is the one that has mercy."