Aida – Episode #118 – December 3, 2020
JESS: Hello, I'm Jesse McAnally.
ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.
BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.
JESS: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew to like musical theater. And today, Andrew, we have a super special guest.
ANDREW: A very special guest.
JESS: A very special guest. A first timer. It's been a while since we had a brand new guest. Today we have the ultra-talented, wonderful James from Schaffrillas.
JAMES: Hey everyone. It's me, James from Schaffrillas.
JESS: Now, Bree, put applause. But a bunch of applause right here. Everyone’s cheering, oh my god.
(Wave of applause)
JAMES: Oh, thank you everyone that I can hear right now. Oh my god, amazing.
JESS: Yeah standing ovation.
JAMES: Wow, thank you, all. Wow, amazing.
JESS: All right. And you chose what we're talking about today. So James, I'm making –
ANDREW: This is your fault!
JESS: This is your fault we had to talk about this.
JAMES: Oh no, my bad.
JESS: And if anyone doesn't like this episode, just blame James.
ANDREW: Yeah that's true.
JAMES: I’m sorry, I'll take all the blame, it’s all on me.
ANDREW: Send all hate to his comment section.
JAMES: You can bury me alive if you need to for this.
JESS: I see what you did there.
JAMES: Yep. So, today's episode’s about Aida.
JESS: Cue the music.
(My Strongest Suit Plays)
JESS: Aida is a musical with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, based on Giuseppe Verdi's Italian-language opera the same name. But this musical is actually based on a children's storybook version of Verdi's opera written by Leontyne Price. It premiered on Broadway on March 23, 2000. It ran for 1,852 performances, making it the 39th longest running Broadway show of all time, which it still holds. It closed on September 4, 2004. It was nominated for five Tony Awards and won four, including Best Original Score, named by Time as one of the 10 theatre performances of the year, and the cast recording won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The plot is about an enslaved Nubian princess, Aida, who finds her heart entangled with Radames. Did I say that right? Radames?
JAMES: Radames, I think.
JESS: Radames? Adam Pascal, an Egyptian soldier who is betrothed to the Pharaoh's daughter, Amneris. As their forbidden love blossoms, Aida is forced to weigh her heart against the responsibility that she faces as the leader of her people.
JAMES: All right.
JESS: So, James, why did you make us talk about this? I'm curious. This was the first show you thought of and I was a little surprised, I'm not gonna lie.
JAMES: Yeah. So, this show, it's pretty nostalgic because I actually did it back in high school in my junior year. I played the Pharaoh. So, it has that nostalgic connection to me. But also, my opinion on this show has shifted over time. I first saw it in freshman year. I wasn't a big fan of it. And then two years later, it turns out, “Oh, we're doing it in our show.” And I was like, “Oh no”. But then honestly, getting a part of it, being a part of the show, not just watching it, we really started to appreciate it a lot more and just really enjoy it. And to this day, I feel like not a lot of people really talk about this musical. So, it's one I really wanted to talk about. And the one thing... I just really want to rant about this real quick. I do not understand how this musical was nominated for five Tonys. It won four, including Best Score and Best Actress, did not get a nomination for Best Musical. Like, I'm just so baffled by that and I never understood it. So, I want to give it the recognition it deserves 20 years later on this podcast and that will make up for the Tonys.
ANDREW: I mean, we're basically as prestigious as the Tonys.
JESS: I mean, it reminds me of this Tony season, you know, as much of a Tony season you can have in 2020. But you know, the Lightning Thief, right?
JESS: That is technically the only original musical that premiered on Broadway in the timeline. And literally, it was not nominated despite being the only musical with an original score. They literally nominated plays so that they didn’t have to fucking nominate that.
JAMES: Yep, I feel so bad. I wonder if Aaron Tveit’s gonna win Best Actor. Like, oh no. Oh, my God.
JESS: He's literally the only one nominated, Andrew.
JAMES: No one else was able to be nominated. No one for any other shows was a lead actor. So, oh well.
ANDREW: So, what happened? Did The Lightning Thief just get premiered in January or something? And then they just shut everything down?
JESS: It was December. It was December and then closed in January. It was a limited run. It was always supposed to be a limited run. But it was technically the only original musical that premiered within the guidelines.
JAMES: Yeah, I heard it was a pretty bad production on Broadway. I actually saw it - the tour in Philadelphia. And I really enjoyed it there. But I've heard that it just was not well-suited for Broadway stage, so –
JESS: I mean, it kind of isn’t. A limited run is kind of what that was meant for as far as anything. I saw the tour when it was in Detroit. And I enjoyed it. It's a fun little show. I don't think it's Broadway ready. But it’s fun show for kids to do. Just like Aida, back to the topic. I want Andrew to try to describe what this plot is because he literally probably didn't know anything about the show beforehand.
ANDREW: No, I mean, I was talking with Jess as I was kind of watching it, and he was explaining some of what this actually is. I mean, the plot isn't that complicated. It's a love story between a slave and a slaver, essentially. Or a soldier. They call him a soldier, he's more of a general in the army, it seems? And the slave, we find out, is actually the princess of the opposing faction - The two factions being Egypt, where the general’s from, and they're enslaving the Nubians, which is the other faction. I assume this was an actual war that happened. I don't know anything about Egyptian history.
JESS: I’m gonna bet that Disney doesn't, either. Considering the cast of people.
ANDREW: Oh, yeah.
ANDREW: So, the princess is kind of like, almost trying to lead some sort of uprising for her people in a way. But like, not really. And then they both end up getting buried alive. But after they fall in love and the king of Egypt is like, “No, that's not allowed.” And then they get buried alive as an act of mercy. There's one other character I didn't mention - the Princess of Egypt, who the Egyptian general is betrothed to, I suppose? And she's, like, kind of blown off by him after he falls for the slave woman, Aida, so oops.
JESS: This is a messed up plot. Like, it's about a slaver that falls in love with his slave, which in and of itself is weird, but the specific casting decision to make all the Nubians black and all the Egyptians white –
ANDREW: It's like they wanted to tie it into -
JESS: American history.
ANDREW: Which makes it more uncomfortable. Not that slavery is ever good, because slavery is never good, of course. But adding the racialized element to it kind of makes it hit closer to home in a way. It's like, “Ooh, I don't know about that.”
JESS: Why I find it interesting - James, you said that this isn't getting love - but if the world had gone as normally as it should have, without, you know, the world shutting down, in 2021, in mere weeks even, there would have been a new production of Aida on Broadway. They were gonna do a revival in early 2021.
JAMES: Oh, wow. I didn't even hear about that.
JESS: We’ll see if that happens.
ANDREW: I don't think that's gonna happen.
JESS: I mean, Disney does have unlimited money, but they made less money this year than they did last year. So...
JAMES: What a tragedy.
JESS: But I’m curious. We brought up that slight, like, “Oh that rings weird to me”. How do we do this in modern times? Like, what would be the way to do this specific story in a way where it might ring a little bit more true, especially in these tumultuous times for everyone? What do you think, James?
JAMES: I just think, well, it would definitely be a good start to cast it correctly, ethnicity-wise. The casting for the original production was a little questionable. And yeah, I kind of agree there's definitely stuff that needs to be reworked. I think while it is, you know, obviously, gotta keep the love story between Aida and Radames, I feel like making him a little bit less mean to her early on, and maybe changing his motivations, maybe having him be against slavery. It's definitely a very tricky needle to thread. Um, but yeah, I feel like, I definitely got a sense rewatching it recently that maybe he's not really a character we should be rooting for especially early on, but I feel like there's a way to kind of rework that early on part to make him a better character. One that you actually want to see, these two fall in love with -
ANDREW: I think you need to do - And this is obviously by Disney - you could take elements – Like, you know how in Pocahontas, the guy character is kind of not in favor of all the bad stuff that the nobleman is trying to do? You could just kind of do that here.
JESS: Okay. Okay. I wanna write this pitch to you. Um, I think that we should actively make Aida a little bit more deceptive because she is fairly deceptive in this. She kind of uses this guy to meet her own needs.
ANDREW: She doesn't tell him that she's the princess. At least not for a long time.
JAMES: Yeah, she keeps that hidden from everyone so she can survive.
JESS: Yeah, but I think that might be an interesting way of being, like, she's trying to get this upper crust and fool him into thinking that she's in love with him. For maybe a sneak in the army, like she tried to do, or get her people out. Use the wedding as a distraction. Those types of things, I think, show a little bit more of an active protagonist in Aida. And I feel like if we leaned into that more and more, that she is using Radames as a means to an end as opposed to the love to end all loves, I feel like that might be an interesting way -
ANDREW: Well, that’s how they portray it.
JESS: It is.
ANDREW: Even the ending, oh my goodness. The ending, when they die, it's like the seed that gives birth to peace across the world.
JAMES: Yeah, that's very questionable. And I don't get how that worked.
JESS: And no one was ever racist again.
ANDREW: We did it, we solved racism.
JAMES: Oh man, we did it. Yeah, it's like they're leaning too heavily into the Romeo and Juliet kind of mold in the end there when it doesn't really apply. So it's like, yeah, I don't know where they got that from. But yeah, I feel like definitely early on, I feel like the romance between them sprouts up a little too quickly and unnatural. Like, I'm not sure what exactly they see in each other aside from the physical attraction. It definitely would need to be altered a little bit so that they actually –
ANDREW: it almost feels like a power struggle. Like Radames just kind of likes Aida because she's feisty. It's like, “Ooh, a slave that doesn't like being a slave. Ooh.”
JAMES: Yeah. They use actually a line where Radames is like, “No woman has ever gotten the better of me”. Clearly, he’s... I don’t know.
ANDREW: Yeah, maybe cus you have chains.
JESS: No, it was like, “No man has ever gotten the better of me. And one woman almost did.”
JESS: Ooh, cringe. But the thing is, I love the idea of a princess, someone of her own nobility, being forced again to chains and having to play that part and use it to her advantage. That was what I thought was the most important aspect of this. And yeah, there's some good Elton John love songs in here, but I like the political, like, terrorism side of it.
JAMES: Yeah. For me, I really like – Once we get past the setup for the romance, once it actually gets going, I just really connect with the songs and I really get emotionally invested in what's going on with the plot and everything, the romance they have, the betrayal and all that. It starts off a little bit weak in my opinion but then by the middle of the show, I really enjoy it and I'm invested and then the end is questionable. It's a quality roller coaster. Like, it starts off at the bottom, it goes up in the middle, end of Act One, and then kinda drops back by the end.
ANDREW: I can definitely see that.
JAMES: The ending is a little weird for me. But yeah.
ANDREW: We gotta talk about the other princess character because that's kind of important.
JESS: Sherie Rene Scott.
ANDREW: What is this character's name?
ANDREW: Amneris, okay. She's kind of the villain, but not quite.
JESS: The villain is racism.
ANDREW: No, no, the villain is slavery.
JESS: The villain is Walt Disney.
ANDREW: There needed to be a stronger villain I think in this.
JAMES: Oh, yeah. I was thinking that on my most recent rewatch. I don't really like the villain in this at all. Like Radames’ father. You don't really need him, almost. Like –
ANDREW: He doesn’t do anything.
JAMES: Yeah, the Pharaoh could just be dying of natural causes, and the plot could be the same. I'm conflicted though, because I actually like his second villain song a lot in Act Two, but the first one is one of my least favorites in the show. I just, it's so weird tonally. And it's like, I don't really know about it, but- -
JESS: And that's coming from a man who played the Pharaoh himself.
JAMES: Yeah, true. But yeah, I just wasn't feeling Zoser as a character. He's not even in it that much. He just shows up a couple times in like Act One and then out of nowhere, he's back in Act Two. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, he exists.”
ANDREW: He's there to scare the kids, like, “There's a threat in the show.”
JAMES: “Oh no, there's a scary guy, everybody run.”
ANDREW: And then he doesn't do anything.
JAMES: Yeah, basically.
JESS: Okay, pitch. Giant crab. Giant Egypt crab.
JAMES: I think, yes, the show would be much better if Radames’ father was literally just a giant crab. That totally makes sense. It completely pans out.
ANDREW: Honestly, I’m kind of feeling that.
JAMES: Yes, it would all add up perfectly.
JESS: Scare the kids, you know.
ANDREW: What if we had the ending climax - instead of they get buried in a tomb, a giant crab and Sobek fight to the death?
JAMES: Yeah, I would honestly really enjoy that. They should definitely just remake Aida with all these changes.
JESS: Well, the revival’s put on hold for this. For us to have this discussion.
ANDREW: They’re waiting for our feedback.
JAMES: They have all these free ideas. They can just take them right now and just make something out of them.
ANDREW: They were looking for Tony acclaim, but then we kind of started existing and now they're like, “How do we how do we appease the cheese?”
JESS: Yeah. “How do we get a perfect cheese rating out of these guys?”
JAMES: Yes. They're gonna get it. Don't worry. Just use all these ideas. They’re free for the taking.
ANDREW: We want more giant monster fighting. I want it to be, uh, that's cool. More like –
JESS: There’s not a Nazi hyena number. I thought you brought Elton John onto this for specific reasons.
ANDREW: Elton John is known for the Nazi hyenas.
JAMES: If there’s no Nazi hyenas, then what's the point?
JESS: I got a question. Who is the main character of this musical? I know the musical is called Aida, so you're thinking it's Aida. But kind of our point of view central character is Radames.
JAMES: That's true. Yeah. Radames is definitely the one who changes the most over the course of the story. Like, Aida is mostly the same. So, I guess that is a good point. I think it's kind of focused on both of them, since this is a romance story. But it is called Aida, so I definitely feel like making her a stronger character and giving her more clear motivations would have been a good choice.
ANDREW: It's difficult to give a character choice when they're a slave.
JESS: The trick is, I think she does have very clear motivations, which is her people come first in all forms. Like, that is a motivation that is very clear and that her actions support. It's just that you don't quite understand that's what she's doing until a little too late in the show.
JAMES: Yeah. That makes sense. It's like, there's that one number where she's overwhelmed by all her people surrounding her. And she can't take the pressure of being the ruler while they're all enslaved. And that's a good -
JESS: That’s a great moment.
JAMES: Yeah, it's great. I feel like they don't go far enough with that idea. That she's just overwhelmed by all this responsibility, but she's also enslaved, she wants to hide. That's something I really wish they would have developed more over the course of the show.
JESS: Mmhmm. I mean, this is one of those musicals where I see the greatness in it, it just involves some very bone structural working around. And in the original drafts, this - because they basically did three productions of this before they got the creative team involved (the current creative team) - and then that one was leaning more comedy and more like an actual Disney movie. And this one, they were like, “Well, let's lean into the more darker stuff, lean into the romance and all that.” And I feel like we need to meet in the middle somewhere because right now this is just a little too dour. A little bit too much. And it makes the scenes where there are some stylized things like the princess’ number about the way that she dresses - which I think is a lot of fun - and maybe if we had a moment or two more like that, it wouldn’t stand out as such a weird moment the way it does in the current production.
JAMES: Yeah, that makes sense. I personally think Amneris’ song is good as it is because it shows the contrast. How she's living this lavish lifestyle despite the fact that Aida and all her people are enslaved. I think it is a good contrast, showing how she's so ignorant to these people who are in chains and everything. And I think she has a lot of really funny moments, like that whole moment where she wants Radames to come into her bedchamber. Like, honestly, that was just hysterical, in my opinion. I really enjoyed that. The comic relief that didn't really work for me was Mereb. He felt too much like a traditional Disney sidekick, where he's just saying all these goofy things. And I don't know, I felt like the scenes where he just says goofy things weren't really the right time for them, personally. I don't know. He, to me, felt a bit out of place. And I just wasn't that into his character.
JESS: They went full firefly from fucking Princess and the Frog with him.
JAMES: Yeah, basically.
JESS: I feel like whoever directed that movie just sat down, watched this, like, “Kill the comic relief. That’ll really, really do it.”
JAMES: Yeah. The thing though is, in this, it's like they don't even have a moment to mourn him. He's just dead and –
JESS: Gotta kill the other main characters, what are you talking about?
JAMES: Exactly. It's weird. I feel like they should have maybe killed him sooner somehow.
ANDREW: Maybe, like, the first time we see him. Maybe we could, before he says any lines, just have him die. You know?
JAMES: Yeah. I feel bad because one of my best friends played Mereb in the production in high school. So, Wyatt, if you're listening, I'm sorry. I wanted you to die earlier. So, I'm so sorry about that. But yeah, I wasn't a fan of Mereb.
JESS: I don't blame you. This show is a weird anomaly where it simultaneously feels very long, but also feels underdeveloped.
JAMES: Yeah, I can see that.
JESS: I just want to take scissors to it and then paste in other shit.
ANDREW: There's a lot in here that can work. And I feel like I don't dislike this show necessarily. I was a little bit bored by it, though. Which isn't good. I don't know. It was difficult for me to get into the romance because I kind of felt like... it felt a little creepy with the way they set it up. And I feel like if they didn't set it up in the way that they did, the whole thing might feel stronger. Like, as a whole, essentially.
JAMES: Yeah, no, I definitely understand that, yeah. It's quite similar to how I felt when I first saw the show. I did not get invested in the romance. I was bored by a lot of it. But at the same time, over time, it just... When I watch something, I generally see a lot more stuff to like in the stuff I watch once I get past the way it was set up. And I feel like this musical is one of those cases where I'm really into just the romance - mostly because of the music, I think. It just really hooks me into it. But yeah, the setup is very important. Especially if you're watching it for the first time. You're being introduced to the story and it just doesn't work for you because of the way it's set up. I totally understand that.
JESS: You know what the romance reminds me of? And this is the dark place my mind went to when I was watching it. It's Ralph Fiennes’ relationship to his servant girl in Schindler's List. The Jewish servant girl that he, like, owns. And he has a romantic infatuation, despite the fact that he owns her as a human being and it just makes you sick, makes you real sick.
ANDREW: I haven't actually seen Schindler's List, so I would know the comparison.
JESS: Oh, hilarious comedy, laugh a minute.
JAMES: Yep, iconic.
ANDREW: That's what I've heard, but -
JESS: Um, but no, it's real fucked up. And that's all I kept thinking about is like, when Ralph Fiennes is like “You know, you know, we could we could be in a relationship,” and then he just starts beating her because he owns her. Like, “If she's not reciprocal, I can do whatever I want.”
ANDREW: Well, thankfully, this doesn't go there, so –
JESS: It doesn't, because of the Disney of it all.
JAMES: Yeah. Like, at least they knew to soften the character once the two were actually in love. Like, he didn't do anything awful to her at that point, which, you know, it's a start.
JESS: I mean, this thinks it's more like a regency romance because... I feel like it feels more in line with something like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice. Like, they want him to be Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Darcy never owned a human being.
ANDREW: Yeah, I think if it was set up the way I think they in their minds thought it was set up, where it's like, “Hey, you have this noble person who falls in love with a noble from a warring country.” But when you add in the slavery element to it, it kind of falls apart.
JAMES: Yeah, exactly. That's the key thing there. Because, yeah, otherwise, I can definitely see the story kind of clicking like you said, but yeah, it's uncomfortable the way it's set up right now.
JESS: And maybe we just didn't care about slavery in 2000, I don't know.
ANDREW: There's a lot of people today that I'm not sure care about slavery.
JAMES: I was two years old in 2000. So, I had no idea what was going on and if anyone heard about slavery, so I don't know.
JESS: We we're too busy worried about 9/11 that hadn’t happened yet.
JESS: So this is the third ever Disney Broadway production. The first two were the Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. And this is their follow up to Lion King. How does this sit? I wish Disney would do more of these on one hand, but also it's so strange that they pick this to follow up what is the biggest moneymaker on Broadway ever, as in the Lion King. How does this sit among that?
JAMES: Yeah, I don't know. It's so weird. When I first found out Aida was a Disney musical, I was like, “Wait, what?” It’s, like, not connected to any other thing that they've done? It deals with some heavy stuff. The ending is super depressing. Yeah, I was just kind of surprised by that. And surprised that it did as well as it did on Broadway. Because yeah, obviously Lion King, that’s still running - well, not right now because COVID. But yeah, I don't know. It's so outside the Disney brands at first glance, but at the same time, I think I prefer that over constant adaptations of –
JESS: Frozen the musical.
JAMES: Yeah. Movies which I do not want to see.
ANDREW: Was this the last original product that Disney put out? Like ever?
JAMES: On Broadway, I think so. Yeah.
JESS: Let me look up Disney Theatricals real quick.
JAMES: I think everything else is an adaptation which, honestly, I would much prefer original stuff coming out on Broadway.
ANDREW: It's really a shame because it's like Disney, who's hoarding all this money and creative resource, and they just pump it into the same projects over and over again. And like, well, I don't think this is amazing. It is nice that they did something original, you know? Well, not fully original. It's an adaptation of something else, but still something new that hasn't been seen in the last 10 years.
JESS: Would we count Peter and the Starcatcher as an original? Because apparently Disney Theatrical ran that.
JAMES: Oh, really?
JESS: I did not know that until I looked this up right here.
JAMES: Hmm yeah, I don't know. I don't know much about that one. So I'm not sure.
JESS: I mean, it's not a direct adaptation. It's its own thing. So, I’d count it. Same with the Mary Poppins musical adaptation since they had to work with the Cameron Mackintosh and P.L. Travers’ estate, so they had to adapt the books where they just used the Disney songs. And I hope to do that on the show one day because that is an interesting adaptation because it's not at all the film.
ANDREW: Disney Theatrics actually doing work. Look at that.
JESS: I mean, that’s because legally they had to. But now we gotta go on to our favorite segment of this entire podcast - everyone's favorite time where we compare our opinions to those of the New York theater critics. It's time for Breeviews.
ANDREW: Am I correct here? We only have one review and it’s Ben Brantley?
JESS: Yes, we have one review, but I think Ben Brantley had a lot of interesting things to say.
BRIANNA: He sure did. Sure did. Andrew, I want to thank you so much for not forgetting about the segment this week. I really appreciate it, thank you.
ANDREW: I just feel like I should be doing my Ben Shapiro for Ben Brantley here. I'm just -
BRIANNA: You're more than welcome. Take it away.
JESS: Andrew, do you want to try it as Ben Shapiro?
JESS: Ben’s views.
BRIANNA: Can we please try Ben's views this week?
JAMES: I need to hear the facts and logic, please.
ANDREW: (as Ben Shapiro) Facts and logic. “Pretty much everything that's right about Aida, the new Disney cartoon pretending to be a Broadway musical, can be summed up in two words. Heather Headley. Without Miss Headley, there would be nothing for grownups to focus on. Once they get past the visual jolt of Las Vegas arcade that is passing for ancient Egypt, the work of the eminent set designer Bob Crowley.” My goodness, sorry, trying to read while doing the voices is a little bit more difficult than I anticipated.
JESS: You’re almost there. You're halfway through.
ANDREW: Yeah. “Like many Broadway megamusicals today, it has the disconnected sterile feeling that suggests it has been assembled piecemeal by committee. Although it is the first Disney Broadway production not to be inspired by an animated film, it appears to be waiting for the greater destiny of translation into a cartoon. Although trimmed to 80 minutes and re-envisioned by Disney's crack team of animators, it could be a perfectly respectable children's movie -- not like The Little Mermaid or the Lion King, but as good at least as Aladdin or Tarzan.”
JESS: That's some Tarzan erasure.
BRIANNA: I think I just lost my spot here.
ANDREW: That's uh, that's Ben's views.
BRIANNA: I bet Ben's views will have music.
JESS: No, it'd be that news bullshit he plays before his stupid ass podcast.
ANDREW: Does The Daily Wire put out reviews?
JESS: Yeah, why else do you think he was talking about WAP?
ANDREW: (As Ben Shapiro) Wet ass p-word.
JESS: Do we agree with Ben Brantley on that? Because I feel like that's a really diminutive opinion of this musical.
ANDREW: Honestly, that was very negative. I don't know, maybe it's just cus I read it in that voice, but I felt like I was spitting fire here.
BRIANNA: Is Miss Headley, is she hot? Is that why he says there wouldn't be anything for adults to focus on?
JESS: Ben Brantley's very gay.
BRIANNA: I'm curious. He said grownups.
ANDREW: Bro, but is she hot?
BRIANNA: Is she hot?
JESS: She is a beautiful woman. Yes, she is. And she does kind of rise above everyone else in this musical, as much as I love everyone else in the show. Like, I like Adam Pascal. I like Sherie Rene Scott but Heather Headley is on a different level.
JAMES: Oh yeah, definitely. I only watched the Broadway recording for the first time recently. And it's like, I had no idea she was that good in the role. I was like, “Oh my god. Yeah, she totally deserved the Tony.” It's like, every line delivery just feels so important coming from her. It's just like she has this gravitas to the way she delivers everything. She's just so talented in this.
JESS: Then you got Pascal coming in like “blehhbleeebleeeergh, im a rockstar lesgo”
JAMES: Oh man. I like his singing at least and it's nice to see him in something that isn't Rent because Rent is terrible.
JESS: Hey! We got one!
ANDREW: Is he the first one to agree with us on that?
JESS: Yes, he is.
JAMES: Yeah, I hate Rent.
JESS: Most people like Rent. I feel like I am now discovering we are in a minority.
JAMES: Oh really? I don't know, most people I talk to don't like Rent, so –
ANDREW: It's really just - it's not great. I don't know. There's better musicals that cover the same topics better.
JESS: Like Falsettos.
ANDREW: Yeah. I mean, you're not wrong.
JESS: All right, guys. Are we ready to go into a mid-show and then talk about the songs?
JAMES: Yeah, sounds good.
JESS: I... I don't know about these songs. Honestly, like, that opening scene. Every Story is a Love Story from Amneris. That's a weird prologue. It is an off-putting opening.
(Every Story is a Love Story plays)
ANDREW: Well, we got that framing device to it, with the people in a museum which is weird.
ANDREW: They bring it back at the end. It doesn't really do much.
JESS: It reminds me of Phantom of the Opera, where you have the Raoul old man going and finding the monkey? And then we just go back in time and we stay back in time?
ANDREW: Yeah, it's like why is this even really here? But I mean, I guess it's kind of there to make the ending happier in a way. It's like, “Oh well, they reincarnated found each other,” I guess?
JAMES: Yeah, I don't know. That really - That does it for me personally. Like, I get it's schmaltzy, but it really works for me. Like, just the, “Aww, they’re in a museum now.”
ANDREW: I think... it's fine. It's fine.
JAMES: Yeah, I like the opening song too. I like the elegance leading up to it then the sudden shift to rock. Like, it is a bit jarring I suppose. Definitely. But I don't know, I think for a musical with a lot of rock music and it's... it is a jarring segue. Yes. But I just enjoy how the stage changes into the ancient Egypt and then going over to Radames and these guys singing a rock song.
ANDREW: I don't really mind any of the music in this. Like, I think yeah, it's an Elton John show and it kind of feels that way and that's fine with me.
JAMES: Yeah, I think it works for me cus I'm just a big Elton John fan. I just love most of his music and it definitely sounds very distinctly like him. Like, more so than Lion King does, I feel like.
JESS: It's right in between Lion King and El Dorado, where El Dorado is just literally Elton John songs and Lion King is narrative. This is almost both.
JAMES: Yeah, I think that's a big reason why I just really get into the songs. I'm just a big fan of his musical style.
JESS: I think this is a great album. Like, in and of itself, the cast album is just a good lot of fun to listen to and you can turn it on, there's like a fucking bop every track. But I'm not sure a musical makes from all those specific songs.
JAMES: Right, yeah, that's totally fair. I feel like they really just hooked me emotionally and they're a huge part of what makes the romance later on work. I don't know, I get invested in this sort of rock version of ancient Egypt, which sounds stupid when I'm saying it out loud.
JESS: No, no, no, not at all.
JAMES: In the context of the show, yeah, I think it really works.
ANDREW: Technicolor Dreamcoat –
JESS: You beat me there.
ANDREW: My favorite musical of all time, of course.
JESS: The sad part is he's only kind of joking.
ANDREW: There's a commentary of us watching that and I don't say anything, I’m laughing the entire –
JESS: Andrew is just too much enjoying himself to say anything about it.
JAMES: Oh my god. You know, actually, I remembered something. I was thinking that earlier. Why is there always a Calypso song in every ancient Egypt musical? Because that had the Benjamin Calypso, and then this has Another Pyramid, which kind of has that vibe. It's like, I don't know what the connection is.
JAMES: I guess. Oh, no.
ANDREW: Is it though? Maybe it's just a coincidence.
ANDREW: Maybe it's an actual coincidence.
JESS: Was there one in Prince of Egypt? Is there a Calypso song in that?
JAMES: No. So, I think we're safe. Okay.
ANDREW: We're safe. It isn't racist.
JAMES: Racism is stopped. Hooray.
ANDREW: We solved racism.
JAMES: It’s like the second time this podcast we've solved racism.
JESS: Man, we’re going full Hairspray. We solved racism.
ANDREW: Racism solved.
JESS: I want to talk about My Strongest Suit because I love the song. This is the one I've been listening to. It's the one that feels the goofiest of this show.
ANDREW: This is the most fun that the show has and I feel like I wish there was at least a few more like this.
(My Strongest Suit plays)
JAMES: I remember my director told the girls in Strongest Suit, “Have fun with this number because it's the only time in this show that you're allowed to have fun.”
ANDREW: Which is sad, though.
JAMES: Yeah, it’s true, though.
ANDREW: I get it that the other - the main characters - are in a really bad situation. But this character keeps showing back up. Why not have them have some more fun songs? I don't know.
JAMES: Yeah, I mean, I like what they do with her reprise later on where it’s Strongest Suit reprise and she's kind of sad on the inside. And she's not surrounded by her dresses or all the people and she's venting to Aida. I like that. But yeah, I feel like later on, it would have been nice to have her have another sort of peppy song. Maybe where she's putting on another face for other people, maybe at the Pharaoh’s banquet. That would be nice, because yeah, Strongest Suit is such a bop -
JESS: It introduces a promise that it doesn't keep, which is, “This character is gonna be the most fun you're gonna have. You're with her the entire time.” And she's not that. And that’s fine.
JAMES: Yeah, I guess. I mean, I feel like she has her like funny moments throughout the show. Less so in Act Two, but I feel like there's still some good funny moments in Act One. Like, what I mentioned earlier with the scene where she wants Radames to come in to her bedchamber, the rant she goes on. I just really enjoyed that. That's just Sherie – Sherie Rene Scott I think her name is?
JAMES: Yeah, I always get it wrong. Yeah, she really sold the character and I really enjoyed her in that role. Just acting- and singing-wise.
JESS: And this is one of those - it feels like a song written especially to be performed on the David Letterman show or at the Tonys, so they were like, “We’re fun. Promise. Come see it, bring your kids.”
JAMES: Yeah, bring your kids to watch everyone die.
ANDREW: Just the trailer showing all the funny jokes in the movie and then you go watch it and it's like, “Oh.”
JESS: “Oh no, this isn’t funny at all. They’re suffocating, mommy.”
JAMES: “Why did he get stabbed, mommy?”
JESS: All right, I want to talk about Enchantment Passing Through because, I don’t know, this is the first Aida/Radames moment and it's really cute. In a way.
(Enchantment Passing Through plays)
JAMES: I like it. It's probably my least favorite of their duets, cus I really like the other ones a lot more. But it's a nice little introduction, how they're kind of lost in their own thoughts and dreaming about going sailing and then they come back to reality. Yeah, it's a pretty nice moment I think.
JESS: Yeah, now that you mention it, they do have a lot of duets in the show. Most of the show is power ballads between those two.
ANDREW: Well that’s kind of all this show is - is really just a love story.
JESS: But there's no change between the songs, I don't think. I don't think any song is saying different things than the last song is.
JAMES: Yeah, I can see that. Which is why I'm not that into this one, because I feel like Elaborate Lives later on just kind of does with the song goes but better.
ANDREW: Elaborates on it.
JAMES: And we’re invested in it. And then Written in the Stars is kind of their big breakup emotional thing where they have to go their separate ways. So, it's like those two on their own I feel are distinct enough but this one - I think this one being here kind of makes it feel like it’s too oversaturated with their love duets.
JESS: But also, let's not forget this is the one they sing as they suffocate to death in in the tomb.
ANDREW: Another reason not to like this one that much.
JAMES: Yeah, or wait no I think, yeah, Elaborate Lives is the one they're singing in the tomb. That’s the one that gets reprised.
JESS: Do they sing both of them?
JAMES: Oh, wait no, you're right. They sing a little bit of this one. But the most of it was Elaborate Lives. I don't know. It is pretty weird the way that worked. I get these songs confused all the time because they both like begin with the letter E, so it's just like - I can't keep track.
JESS: (as Elton) My name is Elton, all the songs start with E. Easy as Life, Elaborate Lives, Enchantment Passing Through, Every Story is a Love Story. Every one’s an E song. I’m Elton John.
JAMES: He just had to do it.
JESS: Let's talk about Elaborate Lives, then.
(Elaborate Lives plays)
JAMES: I like this one, the back and forth especially part is really nice. Like, the “I don't want to live like that.” They both don't want to live the way that they're living right now. And they just want to start this romance and be free of all their problems. Like, I don’t know, the back and forth in the song just really works for me because of that. And it's like, I don’t know, I just find this one a lot more beautiful and a lot more emotionally powerful than Enchantment Passing Through, I guess.
JESS: No, I understand that. I feel like all these songs want to be the coolest song in the show, which I appreciate on one level, but it also leads to there not being much diversity of sound.
JAMES: Yeah, that makes sense. I feel like the love duets are kind of in their own category where they sound similar. The songs in the Nubian camp definitely sound similar. Strongest Suit is just in its own category, its own special bubble, completely apart from the rest of the show. And then there's the Zoser songs, which are hit or miss. Like, I don't like the first one, I love the second one. So, it's like, I feel like there's enough of a distinction depending on which characters are singing. But yeah, I definitely see what you're saying as well. There's not much distinction - when there's so many similar songs to any given song, apart from Strongest Suit.
ANDREW: We gotta do one of the villain songs and so we're gonna do Like Father, Like Son?
JESS: Let's go.
(Like Father, Like Son plays)
JAMES: Yeah, this one's a bop. I love this one so much. I will fully admit that it's really not necessary for the plot. Like, because Zoser isn't really necessary. But at the same time, it's just so - it just sounds so cool. Just this back and forth between the two of them. This battle of ideologies. Like, Radames rejecting him, sort of rejecting the whole Egyptian way in a sense. I just really got into this one. Which I was surprised by, because I have no investment in the Zoser character whatsoever.
ANDREW: You have to have a bad guy. It's a Disney show.
JAMES: It's Disney, you gotta.
JESS: You gotta have either dead parents or evil parents. Those are your only choices.
JAMES: Good thing there's no twist villain. I'm happy about that.
JESS: “Oh, Aida If only there was someone who loved you.” Then he pushes the thing –
ANDREW: He pushes the tomb shut on her.
JAMES: Oh no.
JESS: The end. We fixed Aida, guys.
ANDREW: We did it. It's a modern Disney show, now.
JAMES: Disney, call us. So many great ideas.
ANDREW: “If only there was someone who loved you.” It's such a bad line. I can't believe they did that.
JAMES: Oh god, yeah.
JESS: James, are you a Frozen defender?
JAMES: No, not at all. It's fine. It's okay.
ANDREW: The fact that they don't redeem Hans in Frozen 2 pissed me off.
JAMES: Yeah. They should have just brought him back. It'd be weird to just bring it back out of nowhere. But like, honestly, why not?
JESS: He was in the Frozen spring [Frozen Fever] one where he was shoveling shit and –
JAMES: He did get a cameo in that.
JESS: He also got a cameo on Frozen 2.
ANDREW: He did.
JAMES: Oh, yeah. As like an ice sculpture guy.
ANDREW: It was more just to remind everyone that, “Oh, remember him? He sucked right?”
JAMES: I honestly forgot like 90% of what happened in Frozen 2.
JESS: Dude. I remember watching Frozen 2 and being like, “Shit, I'm an adult and I didn't understand what the hell I just watched. How are kids gonna react to this?”
ANDREW: Now, the plot of Frozen 2 - that's just like, “Oh, right. That's the plot.”
JESS: The plot is she goes to follow a voice? She ends up in a voice hole? She sees her mom?
JAMES: And then she gets frozen.
JESS: That she also rides a water horse? That she just knew would be – That movie’s fucking confusing.
JAMES: There’s a magic gust of wind.
ANDREW: There's a fire salamander. I'm into that.
JESS: There's a lot of ideas. Have either of you watched the Frozen 2 nine-hour making of series on Disney plus?
JAMES: Yes, I actually made a video about that. It's just baffling to me that they managed to go that far without thinking of the plot. Like, what would happen in the movie?
JESS: I'm not gonna lie, the tweet I wrote out right after I finished was, “That felt like a nine-hour apology for the movie.”
ANDREW: “Guys we’re really really sorry that Frozen 2 didn’t make any sense.”
JESS: “This is why it happened, though. We had good ideas, but here’s what happened. Our director was also the head of the entire animation department of Disney and then still tried to direct the film, so she was strung too thin and no one was doing their jobs.”
JAMES: Yeah. Oh, man. I feel bad for them. Like, they clearly wanted to make it good. But then, no. They just didn't have enough time.
JESS: I love Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, every time they're called up, and they're like, “Yeah, what is she... What is Elsa’s goal? Like, what is she going after?” And then she’s just like, “Well, just the metaphorical idea of like, you know, this voice and it's calling - ” “No, we need a concrete goal for this character.”
JAMES: “What are we writing songs about?”
JESS: “Is it literally her mother or something else?”
ANDREW: Into the unknown, that’s what she wants.
JESS: Frozen 2 is bad.
ANDREW: Frozen 2 should have been Hans’ redemption. That's all it should have been.
JESS: It should have just been all about Hans, killing every – he killed the 11 brothers in front of him and him doing so. I'd watch that movie.
ANDREW: No, Hans comes back. And it's like, “Magic made me be evil. I was actually good the whole time.”
JAMES: Yeah, it was the rock trolls. They were hypnotizing him.
ANDREW: The fucking rock trolls.
JAMES: It all makes sense.
ANDREW: I truly buy that theory. 100%.
JAMES: Yes. Please believe me, Disney. Please use that in Frozen 3.
JAMES: Oh man.
JESS: So, Written in the Stars –
(Written in the Stars plays)
JAMES: All right, this one I really like. I think there's a reason it became its own popular single. It's just really pretty. I think it's the best duet between the two of them. I just, I don't know. It's very poetry-esque in the lyrics, so maybe not the best fit for their situation. But it's just such good poetry that it really hooks me regardless. And plus, I think that's a lot of the reason why it works as its own single. But obviously, in the context of the musical, I think it still works - surprisingly. I wasn't expecting it to work for me as well as it does given how kind of vague the lyrics are. But I just think there's such good strong lyrics that it hooks me anyway. Plus the music as well.
JESS: Can I say a hashtag controversial opinion?
JAMES: Oh, no.
ANDREW: Oh, no.
JESS: This song reminds me of Frank Wildhorn. Meaning that it's just a pop song thrown in as an 11 o'clock number. And it could be literally about anything.
ANDREW: I mean, as a love song, though. I mean, most pop songs are just love songs, essentially. So -
JESS: Yes, but the thing that makes – Like, my favorite love song in all Broadway theater is The Proposal from the Jane Eyre musical, which is uber specific in everything it’s trying to do. And I think specificity is what makes things really work in a storytelling context. And if you're just like, “General, I love you because the world says we should love each other.” Like, I love Miss Saigon. Every love song in that musical is very generic and same-y.
JAMES: Yeah, I could definitely see that. I can totally see this song not working for everyone because, yeah, the fact that it is this huge pop single on the side should show you that might have been where some of Elton John's priorities were when he and, I believe, Tim Rice were writing it. But yeah, it still really works for me. Just the idea of this cosmic fate. This God's experiment. Totally, I think the lyrics fit with the show and what it was going for, so I think that’s why it works for me.
ANDREW: You know, Jess, sometimes the people in the audience just want to hear a big pop number. Okay? Can you let them have it? Can you let them have it?
JESS: Did I say this was a bad song? I just said it reminded me a little bit of Frank Wildhorn.
ANDREW: Well, you know, we have a Frank Wildhorn stan, lobbying for him at all times towards us, giving us money.
JESS: Giving us money so we can talk about him, because God knows we wouldn't talk about him if they didn't.
ANDREW: So that's all I can say. Frank Wildhorn, we have to say nice things about him. The lobbyists have won.
JESS: I mean, I like Written in the Stars. And I also want to backtrack a little bit to something I didn't bring up. Tim Rice is a controversial figure in Broadway, meaning that people often love him and often hate him and they're often the same people. Meaning I love a lot of his lyrics and a lot of shows he does and then in other ones, he is not even trying. This one I think he does very good in. I think he ends up looking pretty good in, because I think after working with him on Lion King and seeing the big push to that is. And I think a lot of the lyrics in Lion King are pretty bad. I think he really brought his A-game here and sadly it just gets drowned out in all the rest of the things. But when there's good lyrics, you don't really notice them. But if there's bad lyrics, oh you notice them. So, credit to you, Tim Rice. Good job.
JESS: Um, is there any other big numbers we want to talk about? There's I Know the Truth from Amneris, but that's just kind of a downer.
JAMES: I want to talk about The Gods Love Nubia because that's one of my favorites –
JESS: Let’s go –
(The Gods Love Nubia plays)
JAMES: It really has this nice uplifting hopeful sound to it, this like almost gospel-like vibe.
ANDREW: Yeah, yeah.
JAMES: I think it's amazing as an Act One ender, especially the part where the music just cuts out and it's just them singing. It honestly makes me tear up almost every time I listen to it. I'm just so invested in that song.
JESS: And it gives you a nice little bit of a “To be continued for Act Two” because they're like, “Here's our plan, this is what we're gonna do, this is what's gonna happen,” and, “Oh shit, I'm ready. Let's go, Act Two, bring it on.” In the best sort of way.
JAMES: Yeah, for sure.
JESS: It's the peak of the rollercoaster, as you said in your metaphor earlier.
JAMES: Yeah, basically, the very peak is the Act One finale. And then the beginning of Act Two, I also really like. It's the dip. And then like the part where everyone dies, that's just the bottom. The whole roller coaster was just one incline and then decline –
ANDREW: A pretty lame rollercoaster.
JAMES: True, yeah.
JESS: That's the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point. Just one big hill.
ANDREW: No, no. Cus that has the boosts at the bottom though. Like, that’s kinda neat.
JESS: You're still at the bottom, though. Whether you're going up high or low. You're still at the bottom.
ANDREW: But nobody rides Top Thrill Dragster for the hill. They ride it for the –
JESS: That’s literally all it is!
ANDREW: No, no, no, it has the really fast acceleration thing. I don't know.
JESS: But you know what else, folks? What is our overall thoughts on Aida and our cheese rating? I'm gonna make James go first.
JAMES: Um, let me think. Okay, let me just look something up.
JESS: I'm gonna make Andrew go first.
ANDREW: What? This is unfair.
JAMES: All right. Sorry, I just have to make sure I got the right cheese.
JESS: No, no.
JAMES: Okay, um, all right, I got this. So, I'm going to give it a Rumi, which is a cheese from Egypt. It has a sharp, salty flavor and a pungent aroma - which you know, sometimes this show is very sharp in terms of the deaths and stuff. It's kind of pungent and some of the stuff that doesn't work. But you know what? At the end of the day, it's a good cheese that matures for a while, and I think it's got a lot of maturity to it. And yeah, I have no idea how it tastes. But I’m gonna assume it’s a pretty good cheese and I like it because I like this show, even though it has its fair share of problems. And yep, that's my rating, I guess.
JESS: Hey, it can only get better is the thing. Like, that's the thing about Broadway that not a lot of other media - Like a film, when it's done, it's done. You can't like fuckin Francis Ford Coppola make The Godfather 3 again and say it's a new film. But Broadway, anytime you revive it, it's a living object that will change and adapt and get better with every year. Like, every production of a new Broadway show is usually better than the last one. Because time, effort, different opinions and all that. So, that's why it’s great. Broadway is great. Andrew, your thoughts and your cheese rating?
ANDREW: Um, you know, I didn't dislike or really like this show. I kind of just don't have very strong opinions about it. It's kind of a boring thing to say, but I kind of felt like the show was a little bit boring for me. I wasn't able to get fully invested in the romance, which is kind of the entire show, but I feel like a lot of that is the setup. I don't think the music is bad, which is why I'm not saying this is a bad show. And I think the music is kind of holding up everything else and kind of raising it up to a level where it's like, “Well, it's not bad. I just don't like love it.” I'm gonna give it a Shanklish cheese because I think that that sounds funny and it's also from Egypt. And Shanklish is just a funny word.
JESS: You know what? You've sold me. Bree, how was our discussion? Like, what’s your cheese rating for what we talked about?
BRIANNA: Well, as always, it was a wonderful discussion. I am going to give you not just a cheese, but a raisin bread grilled cheese that is Elton John's favorite comfort food. And your conversation was a little savory and a little sweet at times. So that is what I will give you.
ANDREW: I kind of want a grilled cheese now.
JAMES: Yeah, I’m honestly hungry.
JESS: Thanks, Bree. You might have just stole my cheese rating. So now I gotta think for a second. So, I thought Aida was pretty good? I think it's gonna age very well. I think this new production coming in 2021 - if Broadway opens in –
ANDREW: 2022 –
JESS: 2023 maybe? You never know.
ANDREW: I'm sure it will come out eventually.
JESS: But I really enjoyed the cast album a lot. I think that's a great listening experience. Every song on here, though they are not all created equal, you enjoy listening to every one of them. I like the specific framing of Heather Headley and Adam Pascal, their voices do not sound like they should go so well together, and yet they really, really do. They are great. There's some great performances here. And really, it's a lot of fun, so maybe should check out the album. And if you like that, maybe see the 2029 production whenever it comes out.
ANDREW: I think the show will only go uphill. I think Jess is right. It's gonna get better.
JESS: So, my cheese rating is parmesan risotto, another part of Elton John's cheesy recipe collection, which apparently he has a lot of.
JAMES: Oh, wow.
ANDREW: I mean, Elton John is kind of a physical embodiment of cheese, so -
JESS: The cheesiest man alive. But you know who is not the cheesiest man alive?
ANDREW: Sadly, not me.
JESS: Yeah, not you. It is James. James, thank you for joining us. I want you to promote all your stuff out there. Tell everyone where they can find your stuff.
JAMES: All right. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. So, you can find me on Youtube at Schaffrillas productions. I talk about a lot of stuff, like movies and video games and sometimes musicals. I want to make more musical videos in the future. So, check me out there. Also, go to Twitter @schaffrillas. And yeah, I mean, that's about it. So yep. Thank you so much, again, for having me.
JESS: I want to personally recommend his Hadestown video, which is very, very, very good. And personally, I want to recommend the Hunchback of Notre Dame video, which was my first video of my, like, jump into that world and like, “Someone else is talking about this damn musical, thank God.”
JAMES: Yeah, thank you so much. Those are my only two musical-related videos so far, but I promise I will make more.
JESS: I wanna recommend his Megamind content because Megamind is phenomenal. Maybe the greatest movie of all time.
JAMES: Yes. Cannot argue with you.
JESS: I wanna recommend his Shrek the fourth content, because defends how good Shrek 4 is.
JAMES: Yes, indeed. All right. I'm gonna go ahead and recommend every other video I've ever made in alphabetical order. So, let's just start –
ANDREW: Just start listing them off, let’s go -
JESS: All right. All right. We've got another three hours here. But no, no. Sadly, sadly, we just want to thank all the people out there for listening. You guys are wonderful and our patrons especially. You guys are keeping Bree employed, it's great. We love you all so much.
JESS: Thank you to the Broadway Podcast Network for having us on the platform and for not kicking us off for talking about suffocating slaves.
ANDREW: I mean, that's a Broadway show. They can't kick us off for that.
JESS: If Disney approves it, I guess they have to.
ANDREW: It's not my slave.
JESS: It's Disney, they’re the white slavers. George Lucas told me.
ANDREW: George Lucas, the white slavers.
JESS: James, is there anything you want to say before we call it a day?
JAMES: No, I think that's good. So yep, thank you again for having me.
JESS: Let's end enslaved people. We gotta get ‘em out.
ANDREW: All right, James. Now get back in the dungeon and start working on the next video I'm not gonna pay for.
JAMES: Alright, sounds good.
JESS: We’ll see you guys next time on Musicals with Cheese.
Ben Brantley’s review of Aida: https://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/24/movies/theater-review-destiny-and-duty-nile-style.html
Wikipedia page on Aida: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aida_(musical)