“Aida” is one of those musicals that might not grab an audience in the first minute or so — but just wait.
“It sneaks up on you,” said Aaron Rocklyn, who is directing “Aida” at the Rochester Repertory Theatre. “It’s a great opening for a show.”
Rocklyn was referring to the opening song of “Aida,” “Every Story is a Love Story,” which begins quietly and then launches the show like a rocket.
And why not? The music was written by the Rocket Man himself, Elton John, who is one of few pop songwriters who has been able to also successfully write for the musical stage.
“Pop music is usually pretty repetitious and doesn’t always develop a character or story,” the way a show tune would, Rocklyn said. John, who has a way with melody in any venue, won a Tony Award for Best Musical Score for “Aida.” Plus, the cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
In other words, John’s magic touch is all over “Aida” — and not just in a pop vein.
“There’s a wide variety of music, for him,” Rocklyn said. “Aida” includes gospel, Motown, reggae and rock. The lyrics were written by Tim Rice, John’s partner from “The Lion King.”
“Aida,” which opens April 29 at the Rep, concerns Aida, an enslaved Nubian princess, who catches the leering eye of Radames, an Egyptian officer. Meanwhile, she is recognized by a servant of Radames as the princess of Ethiopia. Will Aida stay true to her people and lead them to freedom, or will she give in to the advances of Radames?
The musical is based on an opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi.
Possibly because of that opera background, “Aida” is a music-heavy show, with less dialog and more songs than other musicals. That, in turn, influenced Rocklyn’s casting decisions.
“The music is more important than in some of the spring musicals I’ve done at the Rep,” Rocklyn said. “We had to have good singers.”
In some years that would be a problem, with Rochester Civic Theatre (“Mary Poppins”) and the Rep doing large musicals back-to-back. But Rocklyn said there’s greater depth of musical theater talent in the area now than in the recent past.
“When you have music like this,” he said, “it attracts a certain performer. We’re very happy with who we’ve got.”
Kasey Kukor is featured as Aida, with other major roles handled by a mix of newcomers and veteran performers: Maggie Hendrickson, Scott Nelson, Dan Stepan, Melissa Adams-Goihl, Randy Peterson and Anthony Menz.
They’ll be backed by a combo consisting of guitar, drums and electric keyboard.
“Aida” premiered on Broadway in 2000 and ran until 2004, and the Broadway production has made two major national tours. Even though the story is set in an unfamiliar place and culture, “Aida” has been extremely popular with American audiences.
“To me, it’s that the writers stayed very universal,” Rocklyn said. “It doesn’t get concrete. They don’t even say when it’s situated. We’re saying 500 B.C., based on the clues they give us. But it’s more about a powerful neighbor stealing from another culture. Those kinds of things go on even today.”
Add that to the music, and you’ve got a winner, Rocklyn said.
“When that’s the tack you take, and then you have all these various styles of music, there’s not a time when a person can drop out and lose interest,” he said.
If you go
When: April 29 through May 21. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE
Tickets: $27; 507-289-1737