All-State “Aida” Blows Away Audience


The first look of the stage, right before the show begins. “Aida” is based off of the opera created by Giuseppe Verdi. Elton John had the chance to make an animated feature of “Aida”, but instead chose to pursue the live-action, Broadway path.

Illinois’s annual High School Theater Fest was held from Jan. 9-11. Each year, Illinois State University (ISU) hosts high schools from around the state, where students involved in their school’s theater program come to the campus to participate in multiple different workshops while also being able to see several productions produced by the different schools attending. The one show that everyone sees is the all-state production.

Because I’m involved in theater, I was able to attend this year’s theater fest as it’s specifically for theater kids. Because of this, I was able to watch “Aida” which is only shown during theater fest.

This year, LHS had six students participate in all-state show, “Aida.” Rachel Erdmann, a junior, played the Egyptian Princess Amnerais. Albert Sterner, a senior, played Zoser, the villain of the story. Jason Sekili, also a senior, was part of the ensemble and had a few lines of his own. Two seniors were a part of the pit orchestra: Sarah Donofrio was the second keyboardist while Noah Kublank was the first violinist. Finally, Maja Gavrilovic held the title of assistant director.

Aida” focuses on the main character, Aida, the princess of Nubia, who is hiding her identity as she is captured by Radames, the general for the Egyptian army. Radames is also the fiance of Princess Amnerais. Aida struggles with her selfishness that led to her and other Nubians getting captured and the fact that she has fallen in love with Radames.

I had never seen a production of “Aida” before Theater Fest, and honestly, I’m very glad that was the case. Because I did not know anything about the show before I watched it at ISU, it enriched the performance more than it would have had I seen the play before. 

Throughout the show, I was continuously impressed by each performer’s voice as they sang through each of their songs in a way that, to me, showed great Broadway potential. While I am partial to the LHS students in the cast, I was also impressed by Aniya Thompson, a junior from Normal Community High School. She played Nehebeka, one of the Nubians who were slaves in Egypt. Her voice was incredibly strong and her stage presence was even stronger. Every time she was on stage, even though her part was small, I enjoyed each moment of it. 

However, my favorite number did not have Nehebeka in it. The song “Another Pyramid” was sung by Zoser — played by Sterner — the father of Radames, and Zoser’s ministers, also known as his followers and spies. The song is the classic villain song, where Zoser expresses his want for his son to take over as Pharaoh as soon as the current Pharaoh dies. The best part of the number was the dance break, where Sterner led the ensemble in a brilliant dance choreographed by Cher Schwartz, an English teacher at Grayslake North High School. It was amazing to see everyone dance in perfect coordination, and I wished I could have gotten up and danced along with them.

Although nearly everything about the all-state show was fantastic, the role of the Pharaoh felt underwhelming to me. Another thing that felt weird happened during the song “My Strongest Suit.” While overall this number was magical, I felt that the use of hoop skirts and other fashion trends just seemed out of place. I could be mistaken, but I’m fairly certain that ancient Egyptian princesses didn’t wear hoop skirts. 

Overall, the all-state performance of “Aida” was phenomenal. The costumes, designed by Bob Schramm of Broadway Costumes Inc., were gorgeous and grand. The set, designed by William Hunter Evans, the auditorium manager at Downers Grove South High School, displayed the setting wonderfully, with large statues of Egyptian gods on each side of the stage and several set changes that seemed almost impossible.

If the all-state performance was not solely shown during Theater Fest, I would recommend that everyone should go and see it. However, since the last show was on Jan. 12, people will just have to ask the theater kids all about it.