Based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera of the same name, Theater Latté Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust’s production of Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida will have its final performance this Sunday, January 27, at the Pantages Theatre. Aida has been a beautiful way to launch our new collaborative series, Broadway Re-Imagined, which intends to breath fresh life and a new perspective into local productions of Broadway shows. Local actors Jared Oxborough and Ben Bakken play the father-son team of Radames and Zoser and share with us during an exclusive Q&A why they were attracted to the show, how hard they rock to the killer Elton John score and the contemporary flavor in this production of Aida.
Q. A lot of people are familiar with the Disney production of Aida (the National Broadway tour kicked off at the Orpheum Theatre once upon a time). What are the differences between the original Broadway production and this Broadway Re-Imagined production?
Ben: With this one we’re trying to put a contemporary spin on it. We’re bring more modern day elements into it. There is a rock concert vibe which is really cool with the fog effects and several songs where actors are using mics on stands to give it that rocker feel. There is also modern influence in the costumes. The original Broadway production took place in Egypt. They still used the museum in the beginning and the end, but it was all in ancient Egypt.
Q. Tell us about Aida and your characters in the show.
Jared: Aida is a grand love story. I play the role of Captain Radames.
Ben: I play his father, the evil chief minister of their country’s arm, and I’m poisoning the Pharaoh to make way for Radames to take over as the leader of Egypt.
Q. You both have resumes with very extensive work in the Twin Cities. What attracted you to Aida?
Jared: Theater Latté Da speaks for itself – Peter Rothstein, Michael Ferrell, the whole team and the work that they’ve done. I was part of [Theater Latté Da’s] Evita which was an amazing experience and saw them do Spring Awakening, which was critically acclaimed.
Ben: I’ve always loved Aida and I choreographed it at a local high school once. Also being a director now at Hill-Murray High School, I wanted to work with Peter and see how he does things so I can learn – seeing what other directors and choreographers and designers are doing because someday I’d love to have my own theater company. I love performing, I love the music and I love the story, but I also want to learn.
Q. What drew you to the roles of Radames and Zoser?
Ben: The rock songs. I don’t have the prettiest voice – it has an edgier sound to it that wouldn’t fit with a show like The Sound of Music. No one would ever hire me to play Curly in Oklahoma but both of Zoser’s songs fit my voice well. I did not expect to get the job at all because I play an old man and I haven’t played an old man or a ‘character’ role in my career yet. When they called and offered me the job I actually laughed at them and asked if they were sure that they wanted to hire me.
Jared: I was drawn first and foremost to the music. Elton John’s music for the show won a Grammy. I got to learn the show from the script and understand the transformation that Radames goes through from the beginning to the end of the show and its pretty incredible. I’ve liked tackling that challenge and finding new places to go with the character.
Q. The show is technically top-notch (costumes, set, lighting, etc.) When those elements were added during tech how did that change, enhance or alter your performance?
Jared: I think the tech process can always be challenging – especially since this show is very technical and there is a lot of stuff going on backstage. For tech week, stuff kind of slowed down because it has to…you have to make sure everything is in place. As soon as it comes together, it adds this element that creates the world of the play.
Ben: As an actor, you always know during tech that you get more attention on helping develop your character and running the show from beginning to end so you can get a feel for the character through the whole show. We totally understand what it takes to make it look ‘pretty’ but sometimes you wish you could snap your fingers and make it done. My costume – wearing the kilt, the tie, the little Russian beret and the whip – totally helped me play a mean old man. It helped me ‘go there’ and realize that I’m in a completely different world.
Q. Is there a moment in the show where you rock the hardest?
Jared: Our duet, man! “Like Father, Like Son” is a moment in the show where I stand up to him for the first time and say, ‘Listen, this is how it’s gonna be.’ The music really helps that feeling. And Ben gets to rock out in that song too.
Ben: Having Radames make this transformation where he stands up to his dad helps me bring my character to another level where he’s almost losing it. I LOVE singing the last note of that song! That is what every singer longs for- to have the freedom to have everything stop and really go for it.
Q. You also have the most stand-out dance moment in the show. Did Michael Matthew Ferrell’s choreography impact the physicality of your character?
Ben: I think the choreography is awesome. I love doing it, but at first it totally felt out of character. The more I worked on it and realized that’s the moment where Zoser is losing it – he would amp it up. It harkens a little bit to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation.
Q. Radames is the lover of our story. What personal experiences did you draw upon to breathe life into the desire and love that you’re portraying on stage?
Jared: I’ve been in love before…a couple times. I’ve had my heart broken. I don’t want to get too specific because the world doesn’t need to know my drama, but I think anyone who has ever been in love knows what that feeling is and what it does to you – mind and soul. I’ve tried to incorporate those things.
Want to see our ‘story of love in a time of hate’? Performances run through this Sunday, January 27, at the Pantages Theatre. Visit our site for performance times and ticket information.
Student Rush Policy for Aida: Rush tickets are $20 cash only, limit 1 ticket per valid student/educator ID and will go on-sale two hours prior to each performance. Rush tickets are subject to availability and re-sale is strictly prohibited.