Musical Prodigy Plays Manhattan in Enchanting Variation on Oliver Twist
Although Charles Dickens isn’t credited, Oliver Twist obviously served as the source of inspiration for this hyper-romanticized, musical overhaul of his beloved literary classic. To refresh your memory, the novel’s protagonist is an innocent young lad raised in an orphanage who runs away after being ostracized by the other kids.
Oliver then makes his way from the country to London where he’s befriended by a street urchin nicknamed the Artful Dodger who, in turn, brings him to a den of pint-sized thieves under the thumb of the diabolical Fagin. The naive newcomer is welcomed into the lair and is unwittingly manipulated by the duplicitous ringleader into partaking in the gang’s shady shenanigans. Although Oliver eventually wises up, he still finds it hard to extricate himself untl his plight comes to the attention of a relative in a position to help.
August Rush, by contrast, is set in America instead of England. This variation on the theme revolves around 11 year-old Evan (Freddie Highmore), a music-loving wind whisperer who hears the harmony in all of nature. Institutionalized since birth at the Walden County Home for Boys in upstate New York., he sneaks off to Manhattan in search of his mother and father when he can’t take his bunkmates’ teasing about having been abandoned anymore.
Evan ends up in Greenwich Village, where he encounters not the Artful Dodger, but Arthur (Leon G. Thomas, III), a black street musician his own age performing for tips. Arthur takes Evan home with him to the abandoned theater which once housed the Fillmore East. Presently, the place is inhabited by an army of adolescent beggars being exploited by a Fagin-like figure known as Wizard (Robin Williams).
There, Evan picks up a guitar for the first time and, without needing any lessons, discovers that he can already play like a virtuoso. In fact, he doesn’t need an actual instrument, for he has been blessed with the uncanny ability to elicit beautiful sounds out of any everyday objects he simply concentrates on. This development isn’t lost on Wizard, who dubs the prodigy August Rush and puts him to work in Washington Square Park. (Was Oliver Twist named after a 19th C. England British beverage?)
But as much as the blossoming boy enjoys exploring his just-unearthed talents, he never forgets that his true mission is to find his long-lost parents. During the film’s opening scene, which is set a dozen years prior, the audience gets a hint that Evan/August might be the product of a rooftop one-night stand between Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), a Juilliard-trained classical cellist, and Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Myers), the singer/lead guitarist of a struggling rock group.
Sadly, August’s parents parted company without exchanging numbers, and when his mom turned out pregnant, her intermeddling father (William Sadler) duped his daughter into believing the premature baby had perished during child birth. Truth be told, Evan obviously had been made a ward of the state, and only through a serendipitous series of coincidences (augmented by the assistance of Terrence Howard as a concerned caseworker with Child Protective Services) will he manage to be reunited with the folks responsible for his being born with such magnificent musical genes.
All in all, a fanciful fairytale blending elements of Oliver Twist, Ferris Bueller, Peter Pan and The School of Rock likely to entertain and enthrall preteens for a couple of hours.