Odd, because if any piece of material truly justifies the elephantine approach to musical theater, it's Aida. After all, elephants--as well as camels and who-knows-what-all--have quite frequently been a crucial part of the prop list for the Giuseppe Verdi/Antonio Ghislanzoni opera that, according to the program, "suggested" this new work. Remember, Verdi's Aida was commissioned in 1869 by the khedive of Egypt to mark the Suez Canal opening. It didn't, because the composer wasn't happy with the libretto and kept stalling. But when the 1871 premiere finally came, there were 300 people on stage, and the audience was full of dignitaries from here, there and everywhere (not to mention the khedive's entire harem).
Another fascinating fact of that flashy opening is that Verdi didn't attend. The reason for his absence, he wrote, was that "the sentiment produced in me is one of disgust and humiliation...[this Aida] was no longer art, but a trade, a pleasure party, a hunt." Isn't it curious that, 129 years later, Elton John stormed out of a preview of his own Aida with some of the same concerns? John's publicized exit, however, and the basic storyline are all that the new piece shares with the old. And therein lies the problem. For the Disney folks, producing the show under their Hyperion Theatricals umbrella, have shrunk Aida into something weirdly underpopulated and underdone--not because there's any indication that they thought an "intimate" musical was the direction in which to go to differentiate fresh from familiar, but because they don't seem to know what they had in mind, other than to extend their roster of Broadway moneymakers (Beauty and the Beast and the incomparable Lion King) with another saleable title. Maybe they also had some nebulous notions about slavery and how its aftermath still obtains today, a point that ultimately isn't made here.
The basic plot of Aida remains essentially the same as it's been, although it bears retelling, since many folks out there may realize that an opera called Aida exists but have never seen or heard it. (Adam Pascal, star of the new version, has admitted that he's one of the culturally deprived.) Prince Radames, a war hero, is engaged to Princess Amneris, but when he captures Aida--also a princess, but reluctant to say so--and brings her back to Egypt from his exploits in Nubia, he finds himself falling in love with her. Eventually, Aida is smitten with Radames, too. This condition is known these days as Stockholm Syndrome--kinda like when Patty Hearst fell for her Symbionese Liberation Army captor.
Complications ensue at court, because the Pharaoh would like to see Radames and Amneris wed (they've been engaged for nine years). Radames' dad, Zoser, is also plugging for the nuptials: He's been slowly poisoning the Pharaoh so that he and his son can take over the kingdom. Aida, meanwhile, finds her attraction to Radames getting in the way of her desire to help ease the oppression of her people. As time passes, little goes right, for the lovers are found out and are condemned to die.