‘August Rush’ not ready for prime time

The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)
The cast of August Rush at Paramount Theatre in Aurora. (Liz Luaren photo)

2  1/2 Stars

There’s no denying that John Doyle is a gifted genius. The artistic director of Classic Stage Company in New York City, Doyle has won awards for his productions of beautiful “Passion,” “Carmen Jones” and “The Visit.”

He’s primarily known for his much-acclaimed, pared down productions of “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” where, in addition to acting, singing and dancing, the reduced cast also provided all the musical accompaniment.

His latest production, adapted from a popular 2007 film of the same name, is now enjoying a pre-Broadway tryout at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora where Doyle has simplified the story and amped up the musical component with mixed results.

The plot concerns 11-year-old orphan Evan Taylor (shared by young New York actors Jack McCarthy and Huxley Westemeier) who’s a musical prodigy. “Following the music,” the boy runs away to New York City in order to find his parents. Lyla (Sydney Shepherd) and Lewis (George Abud), his mom and dad, happened to be gifted musicians in their own right.

Once in the Big Apple, Evan becomes acutely aware of the sights and sounds of the city. He’s noticed by a man called the Wizard, a Fagin-like character who brings the young man into his Collective of street musicians.

August Rush, the Musical, is at Paramount Theatre, Aurora. (Liz Lauren photo)
August Rush, the Musical, is at Paramount Theatre, Aurora. (Liz Lauren photo)

The Wizard gives Evan the new name of August Rush and encourages him to write his own music. The evening that the boy is scheduled to debut his musical composition, entitled “August’s Rhapsody,” he’s finally reunited with his parents.

This original new musical features a slim book and lyrics by Glen Berger and a gorgeous musical score by Mark Mancina. With no intermission, the 80-minute piece feels more like a concert or a performance piece, with its almost continuous music and its sparse dialogue.

The score is played by a versatile, 10-member, onstage ensemble, most of whom are adept with a variety of instruments. Also included in the accompaniment are Leenya Rideout as Hope and John Hickok as the sinister Wizard who also plays Lyla’s father.

The set is simple, but quite lovely. When theatergoers first enter the ornate Paramount Theatre, Scott Pask’s scenic design has captured the look of a grand recital hall. It features a grand piano centerstage on a turntable, flanked by a wall of movable screens and vertical slats.

However, as the scenes change the set, beautifully lit by Paul Toben, and illuminated by Joe Burke’s colorfully textured projections, seem to show skyscrapers emerging along with other metropolitan locales.

Ann Hould-Ward, who’s costumed such noteworthy Broadway productions as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Color Purple,” has clothed her ensemble simply in black and white, reserving color for the four main characters. The effect is stunning.

This original, New York-bound production is extremely brief, too short, really, to expect audiences to pay typical Broadway prices for tickets.

Directed by John Boyle,this new show is primarily a concert that has been built around the suggestion of a plot. The production could almost be thought of as a unique dance concert because, thanks to Joann M. Hunter’s choreography, it’s a creative melding of movement, singing and the orchestral accompaniment.

Mark Mancina’s luminous score is the star of this presentation presented by a multi-gifted cast guided by musical director/conductor Greg Jarrett, with orchestrations and arrangements by Dave Metzger.

Perhaps if the work becomes expanded to include more of the movie’s story it will be a more satisfying production.

DETAILS: “August Rush is at he Paramount Theatre, 8 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora, IL through June 2, 2019. For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 or visit ParamountAurora.

Colin Douglas

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

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