It's hard to imagine a show better suited to director John Doyle's singular approach than "August Rush: The Musical," a New York City import in its world premiere at Aurora's Paramount Theatre.
Based on the 2007 film starring Freddie Highmore as an 11-year-old musical prodigy searching for his birthparents, "August Rush" is about artistic creation and the powerful connections people forge through music. The premise suits Doyle's singular style evident here as in previous acclaimed revivals of "Sweeney Todd" and "Company" which involves casting multi-hyphenates (singer/actor/instrumentalists) who serve as their own orchestra.
Unfortunately, the concept misses the mark in "August Rush," partly because while the production boasts able instrumentalists, not all of them possess the vocal heft and acting chops audiences expect from a Paramount production. In a musical that clearly aspires to an emotional connection, that's a problem.
And it's not the only one. Doyle's ambiguous staging which has actor-instrumentalists walking about, seemingly without purpose fails to clarify the overstuffed narrative. In fact, it muddles it further.
The production has a spare, sophisticated look due in part to Scott Pask's concert hall set dominated by an ebony grand piano and highlighted by a black, white and red palette that includes Paul Toben's lighting and Ann Hold-Ward's costumes. It's stylish but aloof, with a distinct chill that further underscores the lack of genuine emotional resonance in what is an urban fairy tale.
The titular character confirms that much during the opening moments.
"I believe in music like some people believe in fairy tales," says August Rush, played on opening night by the winsome Jack McCarthy, who shares the role with Huxley Westemeier.
The product of a one-night stand between classical cellist Lyla (Sydney Shepherd) and rock guitarist/mandolinist Lewis (George Abud), Evan never knew his parents. And they don't know he exists, since Lyla who wanted to keep her baby believes he died at birth.
Raised in foster care, Evan runs away at the age of 11 to New York City, where he believes music will magically lead him to his birthparents.
There he falls in with the Wizard (John Hickok), a sinister maestro who re-christens him August Rush and entices him into the "The Collective," an orchestra comprised of regular folks turned street musicians who gave up everything for their passion.
"Music is all you need," insists the Wizard, who exploits the artists he proposes to lead.
Forcing conformity on nonconformists (August Rush included), the Wizard demands they follow his artistic vision. In similar fashion, Lyla's manager/father (also played by Hickok) imposes his will on Lyla, putting her baby up for adoption years earlier without her knowledge so the child won't derail her career.
Composer/lyricist Mark Mancina (who scored the "August Rush" film) and writer/lyricist Glen Berger ("Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark") pack a lot of ideas into this 80-minute show: the pull of family, music's unifying power, the joy of artistic creation and the exploitation of artists.
There are some striking musical numbers. The strongest "Circle of Fifths" (familiar to any music student) in which Leenya Rideout's teacher/muse Hope teaches young Evan music theory centers on composing, while the most joyous "You're a Symphony" celebrates the artistic spirit. The most compelling are the instrumentals a "Father and Son Jam" between kindred spirits who don't know they're related, and the penultimate "Rhapsody," an urban anthem.
It will come as no surprise that this fairy tale, like most fairy tales, ends happily. But the rush toward that ending, and the lack of emotional bonds forged along the way, make it less than satisfying. August's story needs more work especially if he ever hopes to make it to Broadway.
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|Publication:||Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)|
|Date:||May 10, 2019|
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