August Rush: The Musical
At the Paramount Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Aurora –The Paramount Theatre has built an admired position in regional theater as a purveyor of musical revivals of Broadway quality. Now the Paramount artistic brain trust is entering the high risk world of new musicals, hoping to strike critical and commercial gold with an adaptation of the 2007 motion picture “August Rush.” Whether the production will have a life beyond Galena Boulevard is uncertain, but the show at the Paramount has the makings of a success, if only it can find an audience.
The movie version of “August Rush” didn’t get much critical approval, though it apparently has become fondly remembered among some fans. The storyline is drenched in sentimentality and its plot’s improbable coincidences. The new show’s ticket to success will rest primarily on its music and its appeal to viewers with a high tolerance for touchy feely characters and its happy ending.
The musical’s title character was actually born Evan Taylor. He is the offspring of a classical cellist named Lyla and Lewis, the lead singer of a rock band. The lad spends his childhood in assorted foster homes, and his goal in life is to locate his birth parents. He is eventually taken on by a character called the Wizard who recognizes that the boy is a musical genius and becomes his manager of sorts, and changes his name to August Rush.
August eventually finds his birth parents and establishes himself as a musical prodigy by the time he is 26 years old. It’s an unlikely narrative but so was an unconventional musical called “Once,” another show driven by music and romance that became one of the major hits of this decade.
It’s the manner as much as the matter that may send “August Rush” into the winner’s circle. Director John Boyle and a talented team of designers have created a unique environment for their fairy tale-ish story. The vast Paramount stage space is largely empty throughout the performance, its chief prop a grand piano in the middle of the stage that serves as both a musical instrument and a mini stage. The set design by Scott Pask is an abstract selection of beige-colored screens and curtains, occasionally embellished by Joe Burke’s projection designs.
There is little sense of place or the passage of time during the 80-minute one-act presentation. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward has dressed the large cast in a variety of clothing ranging from gowns and tuxedos to casual outfits. August (played alternately by Jack McCarthy and Huxley Westmeier), wears a young boy’s uniform of a polo shirt, jeans, and a jacket. He never ages visually from his adolescence years, and neither do the other main characters, even though the narrative covers at least two decades.
The large cast is multitalented, each playing a musical instrument on stage as well as acting and singing. And they play legitimate orchestral instruments, which must have presented casting challenges, all of them well met.
The show’s book is by Glen Berger, with music by Mark Mancina (both collaborated on the lyrics). Most of the show is sung rather than spoken. The voices are all excellent, verging on light classical rather than Broadway pop. The featured performers are George Abud as Lewis, Sydney Shepherd, an exceptionally adept performer who plays Lyla, and John Hickock as the Wizard. There is also fine all-round work by Leenya Rideout as a musician named Hope whose role I never quite figured out, but she certainly displayed splendid singing and piano playing chops.
The future of “August Rush” may be unknown right now, but the Paramount is hosting a production that is definitely built to last beyond the Aurora run. Creativity, professionalism, and intelligence dominate the enterprise. The Paramount may be too large for what is essentially a chamber musical, though a spacious stage is handy throughout the evening to accommodate the large cast and the stage-to-rafters set designs.
“August Rush” never moved me much emotionally, but I was filled with admiration for its highly listenable music, the uniformly excellent performances, and the visual look of the production. There is an honesty and sincerity in the performances that is irresistible, and was duly recognized by the enthusiastic audience response at the curtain call. The show is in exceptionally good shape for a new vehicle in an out-of-town tryout and nothing I saw and heard seemed to demand radical adjustment. The production is ready for the next step in its present condition, if some other theater will give it the chance. Good luck to everyone involved!
The show gets a rating of
“August Rush” runs through June 2 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Boulevard. Performances are Wednesday at 1:30 and 7 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $36 to $69. Call 630 896 6666 or visit ParamountAurora.com.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.
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