Regional Reviews: Other Regions
Around the World in 80 Days
Also see Gil's recent review of Catch Me If You Can
Verne's novel, while extremely elaborate, actually has a fairly straightforward plot. In 1872 London, and with the expansion of rail lines across Asia, wealthy Phileas Fogg states that it is now possible to travel around the world in just eighty days. He wagers his life savings of £20,000 on a bet with members of the upper crust Reform Club who don't believe he can succeed in his globetrotting expedition in such a short time. With his trusty and resourceful valet Passepartout at his side and traveling by a combination of trains and ships, Fogg's adventure takes him, and the audience, from London to Egypt, India, Hong Kong, Japan, California, and New York before finally making it back to London.
However, the wager puts Fogg's fortune and his life at risk when a police detective, who thinks Fogg is a thief on the run after encountering him on his journey, puts as many obstacles in Fogg's way as he can to slow his trip down until he has the means to arrest him. That turns the adventure into a completely different one than the determined and relentless Fogg had originally imagined. Along the way, Fogg also meets the widow Mrs. Aouda and finds that discovering love may be more important than making it back to London within the 80 days.
Eason's adaptation follows the main plot of Verne's novel with many scenes of high adventure as well as moments that are charming, fun, romantic and comical. Director Dave Tinney brings a wonderful sense of playfulness and romance to the production and he manages to draw effective and clear portrayals from his four leads that resonate, along with winning performances from the group of men who play all of the supporting characters. Tinney also manages to incorporate the aerial acts and acrobatics into the production fairly seamlessly to play up the playful and romantic elements of the play. However, as talented as these aerialists are, and there are several awe-inspiring sequences, there are a few times when these moments don't add anything to the story but spectacle.
The show is double cast, and the cast we saw performs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Kelton Davis is excellent as Fogg, a proper English gentlemen who shows little emotion and claims that he never jokes. He prefers to study mathematics and often quotes calculations, but when he meets Mrs. Aouda, Fogg's rigid demeanor changes and Davis wonderfully shows how he doesn't quite know at first what these new emotions are that he's feeling. Ryan Simmons is superb as Passepartout. His combination of double takes, arched eyebrows, and rubbery body movements get big laughs as does his thick French accent, which continually confuses people when he speaks. There is also a great running gag on how no one knows how to pronounce his name, which is highly humorous due to Simmons' refined comic abilities and his reactions to the names people call him. Simmons comes out into the audience before the show begins and his playful nature immediately makes him an audience favorite.
Amishi Rohaj is appropriately reserved as Mrs. Aouda, a woman who just lost her husband and finds herself whisked into Fogg's adventure. Rohaj brings a lovely sense of quiet and stillness to the, at times, elaborate adventures goings on around her, which affords a nice break from the chaos and also allows for the romance between Aouda and Fogg to resonate. There are a few moments when Rohaj lets us see how much Aouda is truly enjoying these new and exciting experiences. Zac Zumbrunnen is a hoot as the bumbling Inspector Fix who tries to thwart Fogg, and even though it's a small role, Genesis Eve Garcia oozes royalty and majesty as Queen Victoria.
Ammar Al-Saffar, Bryan Dayley, Josh Durfey, and Angel Rosa are having a blast playing a multitude of supporting roles, from the upper crust members of the Reform Club to the captain of a ship and various other people Fogg and Passepartout encounter on their journey. Alan Brinkerhoff, Jordan Dahl, Jessica Zöe Bird, Olivia Lee, MaKayla Finlinson, and Jane Jackson are all incredibly talented aerialists and acrobats who use silks, trampolines, circus apparatus, and dance, all exceptionally choreographed by Lindsey D. Smith with aerial choreography by Ramsi Nia Stoker, to deliver many impressive and highly theatrical moments.
The creative elements are excellent. Kacey Udy's scenic design incorporates Victorian and steampunk elements, as do the colorful and elaborate costumes by Joy Zhu and Elise McMurry; the saris for Mrs. Aouda are rich and gorgeously detailed and the tall top hat for Fogg is a wonderful, whimsical touch. Udy uses a wooden rotating floor to evoke the sense of movement that's crucial to the plot along with many large scenic elements that descend from the flies, including an elephant and a very impressive set piece that's used to depict the ship the group takes. There is a director's note in the program which includes mention of how a hot air balloon wasn't in Verne's original novel but something added for the 1956 film version. The script even touches upon this omission, but Udy finds a way to incorporate it into the production, and it's a wonderful addition.
The lighting design by Jaron Kent Hermansen and sound by Michelle Ohumukini are excellent, especially for the storm at sea and the many night time sequences. The cities and countries where Fogg is currently on his voyage are displayed on the large screens that surround the audience and projected on the floor of the stage, and Maddy Ashton's video and projection designs are fun and whimsical. However, what's most impressive of all is the original score that Rob Gardner wrote for this production that is not only gorgeous as it underscores the action but also is used very effectively to echo the emotions and feelings of the main characters and to serve as a way to supplement the aerial, acrobatic and dance elements.
Eason's adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days incorporates several action-packed sequences, an abundance of humor, and a huge amount of charm, with many touching moments that reflect upon Fogg's relationships with his valet and his romance with the mysterious Mrs. Aouda, to deliver a fun adventure the whole family can enjoy. With a wonderful cast, elaborate creative aspects, sure-footed direction, and a sensational original score, Hale Centre Theatre's production is a thrilling, touching, comical, and ultimately charming spectacle of a production of Verne's classic novel.
Around the World in 80 Days runs through October 21, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 South Monroe Street, Sandy UT. For tickets and information, please visit hct.org or call 801-984-9000
By Jules Verne