Genesius West's ‘Aida' is captivating

Julia deGruchy plays Aida in the Genesius WEst production of "Aida." Photo by Kathi Christie
Michael Roman plays Rademes in the Genesius West production of "Aida." Photo by Kathi Christie

I had a chance to see the dress rehearsal of Genesius West’s production of “Aida” Wednesday, July 9 and area audiences found themselves in for a treat. A cast of 80 talented young actors from all over Berks County brought Elton John and Tim Rice’s contemporary Broadway hit to life. Don’t let their ages (6-22) fool you. The principal characters delivered stellar performances with mature and emotionally-charged vocals.

Add to that the powerful music, spectacular lighting and complex choreography and you have a delightful evening at the theater.

Set mostly in ancient Egypt, “Aida” is a timeless love story. Aida, a Nubian princess is captured by an Egyptian army captain, Radames, who enslaves her and also falls in love with her. Complicating the plot are his fiancée, Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, and his own scheming father, Zoser, who is plotting to have Radames (unbeknownst to him) become pharaoh.

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Julia deGruchy creates a memorable Aida. She has the range required by the role and her voice has a richness and depth that suits the diverse songs. She nails it from the upbeat “The Gods Love Nubia” to the beautiful ballad “Written in the Stars.”

The latter is a duet with Radames, played by Michael Roman, and is probably the song that audiences most remember when leaving the theater. Roman’s Radames is powerful and sensual. From the aforementioned tender duet with Aida, to the dynamic “Like Father, Like Son,” he is mesmerizing. “Like Father, Like Son” is essentially a vocal battle with his father, played by Drew Snyder. The tension between them was palpable and they matched each other note for note. It is one of my favorite scenes from the show.

Completing the classic love triangle is Hannah Schreffler as Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, who has been betrothed to Radames since childhood. Her role called for delivering a wide range of musical styles and deliver she did -- from the powerful ballad “Every Story is a Love Story,” to the Motown-esque, “ My Strongest Suit.”

Duets played a large part in this show, creating special moments. Another of those was sung by Aida and Mereb, another Nubian slave, played by Tyler Ravert. His clear tenor brought a poignancy to “How I Know You.”

Other key roles are played by Spencer Barbera as Pharaoh, Priscilla Olivares as Nehebka, another slave who sacrifices herself for Aida, and Grayson Ziegler as Amonasro, Aida’s father.

Rounding out the cast, representing numerous schools in Berks County are dozens of young people. Playing the male roles are: Jack Ambarian, Joseph Ambarian, Owen Asztalos, Mitch Boyer, Michael Confalone, Justin Cox, Ryan Cunningham, Connor Dautrich, Matt Duong, Drew Gantert, Andrew Granus, Cutter Harris, Evan Malarkey, Nick Moore, Seth Ravert, Eli Reber, Gabe Reber, Joshua Sell, MJ Stone, RJ Voit, Nolan Watts and Strat Yost.

Playing the female roles were: Kayla Aulenbach, Jillian Barskey, Brianna Bernheiser, Julia Boyer, Megan Butterworth, Alivia Devlin, Emma Devlin, Michaela Dungan, Cassidy Franco, Tori Gibson, Grace Gleason, Alex Goshert, Kaitlyn Granger, Elizabeth Hawley, Arianna Hemmings, Katie Hulina, Emily Jordan, Torey Jordan, Kaia Kantner, Rose Kershner, Natalie Konowal, Mikaela Krall, Kirsten Lebo, Maura Malarkey, Summer Mankey, Riley Mattes, Sophia Mattes, Mary McCormick, Norene Miller, Andrea Moore, Gabby Mulreaney, Rachel Ohnsman, Chloe Olszewski, Rebecca Pelachick, Briana Reazor, Kylie Reazor, Kelsey Reider, Sarah Rothenberger, Dana Schultz, Sydney Schultz, Emily Snyder, Maya Spragley, Christiana Wagner, Julia Weaver, Katie Weidner, Emma Wenrich, Marley Wheeler, Maria Yost, Sophia Yost and Eleni Zahariadis.

The cast included 80 kids from more than a dozen Berks County schools and five colleges. They were backed up by a live orchestra of 15 local musicians.

The show was directed by Hope, music directed by Andrew Cusano, choreographed by Amanda Guistwite, with set and lighting designed by Jeff Cusano and Sabrina Hettinger, and stage managed by Zach Frantz.

Genesius West was a collaboration with the Conrad Weiser PTO. This production was rated PG.

For more information visit www.genesiusdifference.org