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THEATER August Rush: The Musical
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2019-05-13

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Book & Lyrics: Glen Berger; Music & Lyrics: Mark Mancina. At: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena

August Rush: The Musical is a major occasion for the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. It's the venue's first world-premiere musical, and this stage adaptation of the 2007 Hollywood film has Broadway aspirations.

So it's strange that August Rush comes off as a highly re-conceptualized off-Broadway revival.

Some finger-pointing can be steered at Tony Award-winning Scottish director John Doyle, the artistic director of New York's off-Broadway Classic Stage Company. Doyle made his name in the U.S. last decade with Broadway revivals of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd ( which played Chicago on tour in 2008 ) and Company ( taped and broadcast on PBS-TV ). In both productions, the actors famously doubled up as onstage musicians, too.

It's same with August Rush, which makes sense on paper. The music-centered story concerns the runaway Evan Taylor ( a role shared by child actors Jack McCarthy and Huxley Westemeier ), who is drawn to New York to find his long-lost parents.

Evan was the product of a romantic fling between the street musician/songwriter, Lewis ( George Abud ), and a classical cellist prodigy, Lyla ( Sydney Shepherd ). Without Lyla's consent, Evan was given up for adoption by her controlling Father ( John Hickok, who also nefariously doubles up as "The Wizard" ).

In New York, Evan falls in with a rag-tag commune of musicians, where he is uncomfortably bullied/groomed by their controlling "Wizard" leader.

But the group also is a major source of inspiration for Evan thanks to the gentle encouragement of Hope ( Leeya Rideout ). She encourages the renamed "August Rush" to enter a city-wide compositional contest.

August Rush contains many beautiful moments of music-making with its very talented cast of instrumentalist-actors. Too bad that the show's writers, Mark Mancina and Glen Berger, serve up deliberately obtuse storytelling. This often makes many of the characters into archetypes rather than flesh-and-blood people.

Doyle's staging also veers more toward artsy symbolism rather than providing concrete details. Audiences can fill in the blanks, but this sort of thing often works better in a more intimate venue rather than a Broadway-sized auditorium.

The look of August Rush also comes across as overly polished and abstracted. Set Designer Scott Pask and lighting designer Paul Toben team up well to subtly and swiftly switch locales. Yet any potential grittiness feels whitewashed away ( especially since the whole ensemble never switches out of their summery classical concert gear by costume designer Ann Hould-Ward ).

August Rush in its current state probably won't be fast-tracked to Broadway. But this musical shows lot of potential if the creative team will be more willing to fill in many of its deliberate blanks.


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