AIDA opens Fiddlehead’s fall season at Strand Theatre
“Our mission is much broader than doing beautiful shows,” says Meg Fofonoff, director and executive producer of Fiddlehead Theatre Company which she founded in 1993.
For the past 20 years, Fiddlehead has been known for producing high quality musical productions and performances at different venues in and around Greater Boston. In 2012, they finally found a home when they struck a partnership with the City of Boston to become the resident theatre company at the historic Strand Theatre.
Their success with the production of Ragtime at the Strand in the fall of 2012 helped to begin the conversation which led to the eventual partnership with the city. Fofonoff said the Strand was a perfect fit.
“I’m very sentimental and nostalgic about theater venues as well as the art of what we do,” she said. “Every theater has a certain vibe, a certain feel. When I walked into that theater you could hear the voices, you could feel the power. It has a very special feel and a sort of warmth.”
The Strand Theatre, which will celebrate its centennial in 2018, has had a long and storied history. It opened on November 11, 1918 showing movies and vaudeville performances, which were the most popular form of entertainment in America at that time. Since then the Strand Theatre has hosted a wide array of productions from concerts and plays to movies and musicals.
Continuing in this long tradition of live entertainment, the Fiddlehead Theatre Company opens its second fall season at the Strand this Friday, October 17 with Elton John and Tim Rice’s pop-rock musical Aida. It’s a contemporary take on Giuseppe Verdi’s timeless love story between enslaved Nubian princess Aida and Egyptian soldier Radames. As forbidden love blossoms between the two, the lovers are forced to choose death or to part ways forever to show allegiance to their people and their countries.
Playing the character of Aida is Springfield, Mass., native Ta’Nika Gibson. The 23-year-old studied classical voice and opera as an undergrad at New York University and as a grad student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Ta’Nika always believed that she would be singing the opera Aida.
“Throughout college I obsessed over the opera AIDA and it’s just so crazy that I’m going to be singing the musical,” says Gibson of her first major theatrical role.
Gibson always knew she wanted to perform. Ever since she was a baby “she was singing in church and tap dancing in high heel shoes.” Adopted twice as a child, Ta’Nika was awarded a scholarship to The MacDuffie School in Springfield (now in Granby, MA), where she was the lead in all of their musicals.
While at the private boarding and day school, headmistress Kathryn Gibson became her guardian and eventually Kathryn and her husband, David (a classical cellist), adopted Ta’Nika as their daughter during her junior year. David, too, recognized Ta’Nika’s gifts, and one of the first things he said to her when she moved into their home was ‘we have to get you voice lessons’. He had seen her perform at school and knew that she had a great voice, recalls Gibson.
Meg Fofonoff also recognized Ta’Nika’s talent when casting for the title role in the musical.
“She does have a very special presence, a kind of majestic presence and an amazing voice,” Fofonoff said. “I think [she] will take the role where I think it needs to go.”
With a powerful score that features stirring ballads and rousing choral numbers, Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA is a modern crowd-pleaser that embraces multi-cultural casting and exuberant dancing, staging and singing. Gibson, who has 13 songs in the musical, is preparing for her role with a voice teacher she found in NYC. Up until this past January, Ta’Nika was singing opera full-time and couldn’t even sing along with the radio. But now, her voice teacher has “unleashed the belt” that she knew she had within her.
AIDA is the first of three Tony-Award winning rock musicals scheduled for Fiddlehead’s 2014–2015 season at the Strand, with the second being The Wiz slated for February 13–22, 2015, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar as the final musical of the season playing April 24–May 3, 2015.
The Strand will be busy. And that’s a good thing, according to Fofonoff.
“The Strand is a theater that needs to be preserved to death,” she said. “Certainly it’s appreciated by many and needs to be appreciated by more. And more people need to come to it not to just to see what we do but all the wonderful community groups like Jose Mateo, Boston Children’s Chorus and all the other wonderful groups that perform there as well. It’s a very special place and we just wanted to partner with the city.”
AIDA will be presented in collaboration with AIDS Action Committee, with 5 percent of every ticket sold going to support AAC’s programs.
Fiddlehead Theatre Company presents the exclusive Boston production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA Friday through Sunday Oct. 17-19 and Oct. 24-26 at the Strand Theatre. The Strand is located at 543 Columbia Road in Dorchester, MA. Tickets are $25-$45 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 617.229.6494 or online at www.fiddleheadtheatre.com.