Zaniness, Growth in the Age of Amneris

Is it a stroke of genius or merely coincidence that brings “Aida” to the Broadway at the Arlington Theatre series on Monday, March 12, just one day after Opera Santa Barbara winds up its Verdi Festival?

Either way, opera fans shouldn’t confuse this version with the Verdi masterpiece. The only thing the touring version of the Elton John-Tim Rice rock musical has in common with the opera is a plot loosely based on the same story. The music, the sets, the costumes, the look and the style are all in a different, more fantasy-oriented realm.

All of which suits Leah Allers, who plays Amneris, an Egyptian princess who fails to hold the love of her husband-to-be, the Army captain Radames, who is smitten by the title character, a Nubian princess captured as a slave. Seven months in on her first-ever national tour, an 85-city cross-country jaunt, Allers is still smitten herself – by the role and the music she gets to sing every night. We snuck in a few questions over the telephone last week.

Q. What appeals to you about “Aida”?

A. I love the music! It’s one of my top three favorite scores. I had the CD always going in my car. The soundtrack has great rock-influenced songs and also beautiful ballads with a contemporary feel, borrowing from everything from gospel to R&B to “Crocodile Rock.” It never gets old to hear or sing.

How have the audiences been on the road?

They love it. It’s a timeless love story with a universal theme. It has comedy, drama and tragedy and through it all the three characters take real journeys and truly grow, which helps the audience to care about them. People are entertained but they’re also moved. They come up to be afterwards and say such profound things about how they were touched. Just the other night, a girl told me that the way I portrayed emotions on stage helped her because she has a hard time expressing her feelings, but after watching me she felt like she could access them better. But then there are crowds like last night at Pechanga (in Temecula, California), where the audience didn’t laugh at all, which was weird for us. It’s a casino, I think they’re here to gamble more than enjoy the show. But I look at the show like a dance between me and the audience, so it was really jarring.

Isn’t this a tragic tale? Where does the humor come in?

(Laughs) Through my character. I’m the comedic relief in Act I. I start off as a shallow, vain, naïve, spoiled princess whose world revolves around wardrobe. I’ve infused her with my own brand of zaniness and spastic-ness. It’s a chance for me to channel my inner goofball. Early on I sing “My Strongest Suit,” a big splashy girlie fantasy number, all about shoes and dresses and fashion – I get to put on all these great outfits. It’s a real showstopper and my favorite number. Then there’s another scene where I go off on Radames and throw a fit.

Act II is much more serious, but that’s what makes Amneris so great to play because she has the largest character arc – she grows from a shallow pop princess into a altruistic noblewoman who becomes ruler of Egypt.

What’s next for you?

Being on the road has been great, and not as daunting as I originally thought. Your body has a remarkable way of adapting and getting into a rhythm. So I’m going to be bi-coastal, splitting time between my home in L.A. and Broadway in New York. I’ve already gone on some auditions during our off weeks. I really want to take a shot on making it there.