The lights come down in the house, and on stage a mix of purple and blue consumes the space. At the back of the stage the New York City skyline comes into focus, full of sparkles and light. Center stage is a grand piano, and slowly, Evan Tyler enters the space, taking in the scene surrounding him. The opening cords of August’s Rhapsody start to play, which if you are familiar with the movie, might fill you with a small sense of nostalgia. As Evan reaches the foot of the stage and looks right into the audience, he whispers:
“I believe in music like some people believe in fairy tales”
This is Evan’s story – a story about the hope he finds in music, and how music leads him to his happy ending. This writer urges you to lean in and listen, because what follows is definitely something like a musical fairy tale.
Paramount Theatre presents World Premiere of August Rush: The Musical
Much like the 2007 film, the musical follows 11-year-old Evan Tyler (played at Opening by Jack McCarthy, but also Huxley Westemeier), an orphan who believes in the power of music like others believe in the magic of fairy tales. Evan embarks on an adventure to find his parents, and finds himself caught up in a whole list of obstacles - including becoming caught up in the schemes of Wizard (Josh Hickock), a conman who utilizes the talents of young musicians for his own gain. While his parents, Lyla (Sydney Shepherd) and Lewis (George Abud) do not about his existence, Evan never loses hope, and ventures out to use the music around him to reunite the family of which he always dreamed.
With book by Glen Berger and music by Mark Mancina, this world premiere musical features hit songs including Follow the Music, I Can Hear You, Pig in the Moonlight, If I’d Only Known You, and Rhapsody. Director John Doyle utilizes an ensemble of musicians who play the music on stage (some even playing a whole variety of instruments between the musical’s start and end), and fill various roles as needed to help tell Evan’s complicated story full of heartbreak and hope.
While the film more closely follows the original source material of Oliver Twist, the musical takes a slightly different approach – beginning at the end of Evan’s journey and working backward to fill in the blanks. Scenic Designer Scott Pask creates an enormous concert call, complete with a grand piano at the center that lives on a revolve. It is within this room that Evan – or August Rush, the name he holds by the end of the musical, plays his Rhapsody as a way to invite his parents to follow the music back to him. In contrast to the film that lives in a grittier realm with Evan’s challenges, the musical is a bit brighter, and focuses on the hope that he finds in his music – embodied through the literal character of Hope (Leenya Rideout, with a regal stage presence and sensational operatic voice).
Doyle and his design team collaborate to emphasize these lighter moments in Evan’s story. When he first discovers his musical talent, he begins playing a guitar at the foot of the stage. At this moment of the story, Evan is working with Wizard’s crew, which is meant to live in the depths of the streets. The stage is darker at first, but as Evan slowly finds his comfort with the instrument, the other ensemble members come out with instruments of their own, adding to his makeshift symphony. As the music grows, Lighting Designer Paul Toben fills the stage with shades of pink and purple, along with Projections Designer Joe Burke’s sparkling backdrop of the New York City skyline – creating the feeling that everything is blossoming with Evan’s newfound passion.
It is impossible to have a stage production of August Rush without the music. While this writer felt the script itself could use some work, Mancina and Berger certainly create musical moments that this writer has not stopped thinking about since. Following every major musical number, this Opening Night audience cheered – whether this was a large group number like Wizard’s frightening Reborn, the inspiring concluding number Rhapsody, or even one of the smaller, more intimate pieces.
Evan’s story not only details his troubling life in New York, but also the moment that his parents met and fell in love over their mutual passion for music. Lyla is an accomplished cellist and Lewis is a Rockstar, but the couple finds their connection through the magic of the music within New York City’s streets – from the car horns to the ambulance sirens, and even the mumblings of people themselves. They know how to listen, and as they call upon each of the city’s elements in this production, the music picks them up, creating the feel of an epic symphony of sounds in Follow the Music 2.
The following piece, Pig in the Moonlight, marks the moment that Lyla and Lewis fall in love. The number is small and intimate as the couple sits on top of the grand piano staring into each other’s eyes, but every bit as exciting as the one previous through its honesty. The skyline projection is washed in a dark blue, creating a magical sensation. As Lewis plays the good-humored song for a laughing Lyla, Abud and Shepherd share an adorable and fun chemistry for which you might just feel yourself wanting to cheer.
August Rush: The Musical is about a young boy who learns to create hope in the dark world around him. Whether you are a fan of the film or have never before heard the story, this writer certainly feels there is a little something to love for everyone.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Running through June 2, 2019
Wednesdays at 1:30pm and 7:00pm
Thursdays at 7:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 1:30pm and 5:30pm
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission
The Paramount Theatre
23 East Galena Boulevard
Aurora, IL 60506
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.