When Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert approached M. Seth Reines about directing a production of the hit Broadway musical “Aida,” he jumped at the chance. An experienced stage director, he had already done three other productions at Hale this year, but this one hit close to home.
“It’s a show I really wanted to do because I’m interested in Egyptology,” Reines said. In fact, his life-long passion for Egypt has seen him spend countless hours at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Field Museum in Chicago. He even waited in line seven hours to see the King Tut exhibit at the British Museum in London.
This association with Egypt and museums served him well for “Aida,” which begins in the Egyptology wing of a museum before it magically transports its leads back to ancient Egypt. Reines even modeled the opening museum set on The Field Museum.
The sets were particular tricky, Reines said, because Hale Centre Theatre seats the audience around the stage. Normal sets for “Aida,” which include a massive tomb, would make it hard for the entire audience to see the action, so the production staff had to get creative.
Part of that meant pushing the performers nearer to the audience.
“It’s more of an environmental experience,” Reines said. “You get so much closer to the characters so you get more involved than if ... you saw it in the distance.”
That closeness, plus some deliberate staging from Reines, helps sell the story’s central love triangle between the abducted Nubian princess Aida, the Egyptian army captain Radames, and the Egyptian princess Amneris.
“At the basis (‘Aida’ is) an intimate three-person story,” Reines said. “The basic message is that love transcends time and culture.”
He also thinks “Aida” is relevant for another reason.
“I think it’s kind of interesting now, because the story is one of a lot of palace intrigue,” and he sees a lot of parallels to the current political climate in the United States. “Plus, to make it work, it needs multicultural casting.”
In that area, he said he received a lot of interest from the African-American community. Many talented people auditioned from around the Valley, and he’s very happy with the results.
“They could be doing the show on Broadway,” he said of the performers, but they chose other life paths like becoming lawyers, doctors or teachers.
As a musical, “Aida” wouldn’t be much without the songs and dances. This production uses the same Elton John-composed score the Broadway production with its eclectic mix of reggae, Motown, gospel and pop pieces, including the Top 40 hit “Written in the Stars.”
The choreography was created specifically for this production by local theater veteran Cambrian James.
“Stylistically, it’s very, very different from a lot of the things he does because it’s based on ritualistic movement plus Martha Graham modern,” Reines reveals, but is confident the audience will enjoy it.
That audience won’t just be limited to adults, Reines hopes.
“For kids, it will be visually exciting. It moves a lot,” he said. “There will be a lot for kids to see and to talk to their parents after the show.”
At the end of the day, however, Reines wants audiences to take away one message.
“I want them to know that there’s hope in the world,” he said. “As the world is swirling out of control around us it’s nice to think that ... there’s hope for peace.”