Pre-Broadway: Origins, Atlanta and Chicago
Aida was originally conceived for production as an animated musical film by Disney executives, who wanted to do another project with the collaborative team of Sir Elton John & Sir Tim Rice, following the success enjoyed by the animated film The Lion King. Disney wanted to do another animated feature, and it was John's idea to develop the story directly as a musical. A first reading was presented to Disney executives on April 1, 1996. John also recorded multiple demos of the original songs, which were never released but were widely bootlegged. Early readings featured Simone(Aida) Hank Stratton(Radames)and Sherrie Rene Scott(Amneris). It took 2 1/2 years from first reading, to first full production presentation in September 1998 in Atlanta. One of the many issues was what to call the musical.
The Legend of Aida had its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia with the production running from September 16 to November 8, 1998. The Atlanta production featured Heather Headley (Aida), Hank Stratton (Radames) and Sherie Rene Scott (Amneris). The production featured several songs which were cut from the final production. The original Atlanta staging conceived of the play with a nearly empty set, displaying only a six-ton gold pyramid-shaped set piece in the center. Driven by hydraulic controls, the pyramid's sides and bottom could be turned and rotated to suggest various locations such as a ship stern or a tomb. However, the piece, constructed at a price of nearly $10 million, frequently broke down, and a new production designer was hired for restaging in Chicago. Nothing of the original Atlanta set design remained in the new production.
A new, revised production opened on November 12, 1999 at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago and ran through January 9, 2000. Aida producers made substantial changes to its team for the Chicago production. From the Atlanta staging, only Heather Headley, as Aida, and Sherie Rene Scott, as Amneris, remained. Adam Pascal joined the cast as Radames for the Chicago run. Robert Falls took over as director in Chicago, replacing Robert Jess Ross; and set designer Bob Crowley replaced Stanley A. Meyer. Also part of the new Chicago team was choreographer Wayne Cilento. The Chicago production featured one number "Our Nation Holds Sway", originally performed near the beginning of both act 1 and act 2, which was cut from the final Broadway production.
During the Chicago run at the Cadillac Theatre, on November 13, 1999, a set mishap during the final moments of the performance injured stars Headley and Pascal. According to an eyewitness report, while the two actors were being conveyed in a suspended boxlike "tomb" at the climax of the show, the set piece broke from its support and plunged approximately eight feet to the stage. A subsequent press release from the show's publicist stated that Headley and Pascal sustained minor injuries and were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for examination. Both were released from the hospital a few hours later. From then on, the tomb remained on the ground.
The musical, now titled Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, premiered on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on March 23, 2000 and closed on September 4, 2004 after 1,852 performances and 30 previews. The run ranks it as 34th in the longest runs in Broadway history. Directed by Robert Falls, and choreographed by Wayne Cilento, scenery and costumes were designed by Bob Crowley and the lighting design by Natasha Katz. Considered by its producers to be a financial success, Aida on Broadway recovered its investment in 99 weeks, and generated a profit of $12 million.
Heather Headley originated the title role of Aida. Headley won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2000 for her performance in this role. Headley also received broad critical acclaim for her performance. Adam Pascal played the role of Radames in both the OBC and closing productions of Aida on Broadway. Sherie René Scott, who was with the project since its first workshop, originated the role of Amneris, and was named the Most Promising Actress in 2000 for her performance (Clarence Derwent Award). The cast also included Tyrees Allen (Amonasro), John Hickok (Zoser), Daniel Oreskes (Pharaoh), Damian Perkins (Mereb), and Schele Williams (Nehebka).
Pop stars, including Deborah Cox, Toni Braxton and Michelle Williams played the title role of Aida during its run on Broadway, as well as Maya Days, Saycon Sengbloh, Simone and Merle Dandridge. Notable replacements for Radames included Will Chase, Patrick Cassidy, Richard H. Blake, William Robert Gaynor, and Matt Bogart. Notable replacements for Amneris included Idina Menzel, Jessica Hendy, Mandy Gonzalez, Felicia Finley, Taylor Dayne and Lisa Brescia; and Mickey Dolenz and Donnie Kehr as Zoser.
US National tours
Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida also had a critically acclaimed US National tour from March 2001 to 2003. The show won awards in 2002 for Best Musical, Best Actress (Simone), and Best Actor(Patrick Cassidy) from the National Broadway Theatre Awards (now called "Touring Broadway Awards". The National tour also featured Kelly Fournier(Amneris). Notable replacements included Jeremy Kushnier(Radames) and Lisa Brescia (Amneris).
The musical also had a non-equity US national tour during 2006-2007 featuring Marja Harmon (Aida) Casey Elliott (Radames) and Leah Allers (Amneris). This production had a revised script by Henry David Hwang authorized by Disney. The new script was considered to be more serious and darker, with much of the shticky and comedic elements removed from Amneris' character especially. 'Strongest Suit' was staged as a scene in which Aida helped Amneris chose her outfit for the evening instead of a random fashion show. The scene prior to 'Strongest Suit Reprise' was revised with Aida teaching Amneris how to thread, adding more a sense of bond between the women and also humbling Amneris in wanting to learn something new and not just 'be a princess.' Introduced to the plot was the revelation that Radames' mother was a prostitute and that Zoser treated her as such and fought and schemed for Radames to achieve his position of Captain of Phaoroh's armies.