‘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.

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Mamma Mia! Super trouper

Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Mamma Mia! at Drury Lane Theatre. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Artistic Director, William Osetek has staged a fresh and exciting new production of “Mamma Mia!, the 1999 smash hit musical that became a cult classic for Baby Boomers twenty years ago and is one of Broadway’s original juke box musicals.

Taking almost two dozen hit tunes from the ABBA songbook, Drury Lane’s stage version makes audiences forget Chicago’s cold, snowy winter, as well as a rather disappointing 2008 film version.

Here, live and on stage, is a great opportunity to enjoy a polished, professional production of how that musical is suppose to look and sound. And this production is not only pitch perfect but, decked out in shiny spandex, platform heels and a ton of glitter and glitz, it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

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‘Pipeline’ points to black lives matter

 
Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in 'Pipeline' at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)
Tyla Abercrumbie and Matthew Elam in ‘Pipeline’ at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photos)

2 1/2 stars

 

In 90 short, uninterrupted minutes, playwright Dominique Morisseau lays out how the direct route from school to prison has become the American norm for young, black men. That is, if they’re not being gunned down by some trigger-happy police officer.

This is the hopeless existence depicted by the playwright of such important dramas as “Sunset Baby,” “Skeleton Crew” and the upcoming musical, “Ain’t Too Proud—the Life and Times of the Temptations.”

In director Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s new production at Victory Gardens Theater, a topic the playwright explored in a solo documentary, “Notes From the Field,” is starkly played out upon Andrew Boyce’s sparse, flexible scenic design. It’s a theatrical environment that wisely offers more focus upon the characters than the setting.

Tyla Abercrumbie, as Nya, commands the audience as a stressed out teacher at a crowded urban high school, a place where the security guards are just as important as the instructors. Coping with dozens of violent infractions every day is almost de rigueur.

Besides dealing with difficult students, Nya is a poorly paid, divorced single mother. She has tried hard to protect her teenage son, Omari, by getting him out of this dangerous environment and sending him to a private boarding school.

Now Nya has to address her son’s recent personal problem, while enduring the overbearing bullying of her estranged husband, Xavier, a man who’s been all but missing from his son’s life.

 

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