PORTSMOUTH — The music department of Portsmouth High School (PHS) is working feverishly for the production of the famed Disney play ‘Aida,’ which was first performed on Broadway in 2000. The show is set to run at PHS April 1 at 7:30 p.m., April 2, at 7:30 p.m. and April 3 at 2:30 p.m.
Emily Smith, PHS Show Choir director and music teacher, said the play ‘Aida’ is an incredibly powerful story.
“We are working on our Spring Musical, its called Aida and its the Aida school edition. It was written by Elton John and Tim Rice,” Smith said. “It came out on Broadway in 2000 and had a pretty good run, and it is a really great show. “The music is powerful, and the story is powerful. It takes place in ancient Egypt and its centered around the Nubian princess named Aida and she is captured by the Egyptian captain named Radames.”
The main characters Radames and Aida end up falling in love with one another.
“Captain Radames is actually the one who captures Aida and her friends who are on the banks of the Nile to become their slaves in Egypt, and it ends up that they fell in love,” Smith said. “The problems is Radames is the captain who’s been betrothed to Princess Amneris the Pharoah’s daughter. So they end up falling in love, even those he is betrothed and to Amneris, and its basically this love triangle that’s kind of that kind of comes out before your eyes and its just a really great story.”
Smith first saw Aida performed in 2007 with her mother Judy Smith who is a retired music teacher of Portsmouth City Schools, and knew that one day she would endeavor to direct it during the course of her music teaching career.
“Back in 2007 my mom and I went to the Broadway Across America Traveling Company that came to Shawnee State. I had heard of it, (Aida) but I had never seen it, so went to go see it and we went and saw it and just fell in love with it,” Smith said. “It was just one of those musicals that I thought, some day when I grow up and become a choir teacher, this is one musical that I have to do when I have the right kids. It is only my second year at the high school, I taught elementary school for four years. This is my second year here, and I just knew that I had the right kids to do it.”
She described, “the right kind of kids” as students with voices that are compatible with the music of the play, as well as African American.
“The right kids means that you have to have the kids who can sing the music first of all, because this music is very difficult,” Smith said. “It’s not your typical Broadway music where its just really easy and you can sing it. This is some hard music, so that was the first thing, I knew I had the kids. The second thing to cast this show is the right ethnicity of kids. The lead role is an African American female, and I knew that I had several that I could choose from who could fill the shoes of this role, and I just thought this is silly of me not to do it. I knew that I had the guys that could pull off the roles and it was just kind of a match made in heaven. I just had the kids to do it, and it was time. “
This production will be the first time in PHS history that an African American student to perform a leading role, according to Smith, and is something Smith said is way over due.
“To my knowledge this is the first musical that Portsmouth has ever done, maybe even in our area that we have done a musical that was written specifically for people other than caucasians to have the lead, and think that is so important, not only to our area, but to our kids,” Smith said.”Its 2016, and its time. It has been time for a long time to do something that pushes the boundaries of interracial relationships of historical things that happened, and I think it is so cool to be able to do this. Its not your typical comedy musical. This is a drama, and its serious and the kids are taking it seriously, and I think it is really cool that a group of 37 kids whose age ranges from 14 to 18 can pull off such a dramatic piece of work, and they are doing it beautifully.”
Additionally, Smith said this will also be the first time that Aida is performed in any of the other local schools.
“This is a show that has never been done in our area, ever to my knowledge, besides that touring company,” Smith said. “I just waited until I knew I had the right kids to do it, and low and behold it was my second year and I knew last year at the end of the school year, next year is the time to do my dream show, and this is like my dream show. So I think how cool is it. Its my second year and then I get to do my dream show. I tell the kids all the time, they are making my dream a reality, and it is just a really great show.”
The cast for PHS’s production of Aida consists of 37 students from PHS, and few Portsmouth Junior High School students are helping with the stage crew, who want to be involved, but are not yet old enough according to Smith. She said they will also have some alumni that will be returning to help with the stage crew, and who will be helping with spot lights as well.
“Our band director, Matt Swintek is building our entire set. He is also connecting the orchestra, so he will be doing that as well,” Smith said. “But it is really Mr. Swintek, my mom Judy Smith, and myself doing a lot of the scenery work. Some of the kids have helped with props and things like that, but for the most part we are pretty self-sufficient.”
The estimated cost for the PHS production of Aida is between $10,000-$12,000, according to Smith.
“The school district gives us some money and the kids fundraise the rest. I haven’t totaled it all up so far, but at this point we are probably looking at around $10,000. I haven’t paid for everything yet, but we are looking at around 10 to 12,000 to pull of this production, and because this is a Disney show its more expensive, its more elaborate. Those types of shows cost more money, but its worth it,” Smith said.
Semajah Parker, a junior at PHS who will play the lead character of Aida, said she is embarking upon new experience with a dramatic role as opposed to one of comedy.
“This is my first lead role, and it is a really big step for me. Last year I had a supporting role as a secretary in ‘The Pajama Game,’ and this year going from a character that is humorous, to a serious, more dramatic character the hardest part for me is Aida is a character who is very strong-willed, and she’s very passionate about her people, and it’s going to be a little bit tough for me to bring that side of me out more. To be more serious, instead of relying on the humor to make my character I have to rely on the emotion and the passion.”
Parker said her anxieties about playing the part have been silenced through support and encouragement from others.
“At the beginning I was kind of nervous, and then I talked to a few people about it, and they have helped me to find the confidence for this role in helping me to build the confidence and I think that I have a great cast behind me, and great people who are helping me with this, so I don’t really worry as much anymore,” Parker said. “
Being the first African American to play a lead role in Portsmouth City Schools is considered by Parker to be an honor.
“I am honored to be the first African American student to gain a lead role,” Parker said. “When Miss Smith told me I was really shocked, and I feel like its a big step for African Americans, because they’ve had so much trouble getting to places where we are now,” Parker said. “We have an African American President, we have so many good advancements going for us, and I think hat this is just another thing for our local area for people to look up and say that this could happen and that its not because of my race, or my gender. I feel like this is just step forward to making more advancements. I believe it is a step closer. We are looking forward to everyone that will come out and support us on April 1st, second and third.”
Trent Rodbell, a senior at PHS will portray the lead character Radames, the eventual love interest of Aida, said he is really excited about participating in the production.
“I am pretty excited about it, mainly because we’ve never done anything like this because its a lot more serious and normally we do more of the joking, funny musicals and this one is actually like a drama,” Rodbell said. “To do this character is going to be different from other musicals that I have done in the past. So, it is pretty exciting to try something else, and very different is very cool.”
Being that the play is serious in nature, makes it more of a challenge, Rodbell said.
“I think the hardest part is that there are some really emotional sad parts, and to be able to bring that out of yourself can be pretty tough at times,” Rodbell said. “When I was a sophomore I was in ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and I played Lumiere and last year in the Pajama Game I was one of the leads and I played Sid Sorokin. As it pertains to the character Radames in Aida, Rodbell said he is really not a bad guy.”
Reserved tickets for Aida are $20 each, general admission for adults is $10, and senior citizens and students are $5. Reserved seats may be purchased by calling Smith’s office ahead at 740-355-4464.
Smith said they have not been working on the production of Aida back in January of 2016.
“We started in January passing out roles after we had auditions, but we are a competing show choir, so show choir competition season is January, February and part of March,” Smith said. “So we have been doing competing show choir up until the last weekend in February, and as soon as that last competition ended, we hit the ground running with this with choreography, with music, with building the set, learning lines, stage blocking, all sorts of things. So we have done a lot in a month, but other schools in our area don’t have a competing show choir, we are the only one. That is what is really cool about Portsmouth, these kids are stretched to do so many things at one time, and they can pull it off. Every time they do, and that is what’s great about Portsmouth.”
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.