by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & When Elton John composes Egyptian love songs for Aida, crocodiles rock and pyramids roll

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & gleaming stainless steel set with an ever-present tomb, reminder of death. A bridge. Six movable pedestals topped with depictions of Egyptian gods.

We're in the Egyptian wing of a large museum. Two beautiful people lock eyes. Somehow, they realize, they've been here before. They feel a strong mutual attraction.Aida (aye-EE-duh), daughter of the king of Nubia, and Radames (ROD-uh-maze), who just might ascend to become Egypt's Pharaoh, are soul mates. We know that their passion transcends time because a lady in Egyptian headdress tells us all about it ("Every Story Is a Love Story").

The museum dissolves. Radames is surrounded by 21st-century troops boasting about how "Fortune Favors the Brave." (They've just returned to the Middle East after defeating a dark-skinned enemy.) Wait, aren't we supposed to be in ancient Egypt?

But love triangles are timeless, and Radames -- despite being engaged to Pharaoh's daughter, Amneris -- is irresistibly drawn to Aida, who's among the Nubian women his army has just captured and enslaved. What better way to set up sexual tension than to install Aida as one of Amneris' handmaidens? Throw in some political intrigue -- Radames' father is trying to poison Pharaoh -- and you've got a trellis for gathering bouquets of Elton John songs in several styles: reggae, gospel, Motown, pop, indigenous African, crocodile rock.

As Casey Elliott, who plays Radames in the current touring version (through April 1 at the INB Center), acknowledges, "This show is loud -- basically, it's a rock concert."

Amneris: More Than a Sorority Girl

Amneris (Leah Allers) is the odd one out in the love triangle, so she gets the song with the catchy Motown beat, "My Strongest Suit," as a means of gaining sympathy. Elliott thinks that the Egyptian princess has the show's best-written part, and he particularly likes how Allers plays Amneris' opening line ("It's so hard to be loved by the masses"). "That line could be delivered more as a joke," he says, "but she gives it this underlying seriousness. She could play her as air-headed, as somebody who's just into her clothes, but she doesn't, and that's what I like."

Entangled Lives

Elliott likes the staging of Radames and Aida's falling-in-love song near the end of Act One, "Elaborate Lives": "He's down scrubbing the floor. In the previous scene, all the slaves he's captured are cleaning the floors. So she says if he wants to help her, he needs to help her people -- because [laughs] enslaving them is not going to cut it. So it becomes a scene where he is completely submitting to her."

Radames Jacket-less

Of course, Aida exerts a more basic appeal as well. What with the desert heat and the hot lights onstage, actors feel the need to go scanty.

"The director didn't want this production to be a sex factory, for some reason," says Elliott. "But I'm shirtless under my jacket, and in the rub-me-down scene, he makes her give him a back rub, since she is a slave girl, after all. And I do throw my jacket away during 'Elaborate Lives.' One reviewer said -- and this made me laugh -- 'He can strip down at the drop of a hat." And it's true -- I can take that jacket off in about point-2 seconds."

Timeless love stories have their place, but power chords and naked torsos sure help.

Aida belts out the love ballads on Thursday, March 29, at 7:30 pm; Friday, March 30, at 8 pm; Saturday, March 31, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, April 1, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$53. Visit or call 325-SEAT.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.