Adding something new to a classic story can make it appear fresh. New Village Arts Theatre’s family-friendly production of Around the World in 80 Days not only uses a 2008 script from Laura Eason, but also incorporates original songs from a local “pirate rock” band, The Shantyannes (their musical theatre debut).
Adapted from Jules Verne’s popular adventure novel, a 19th-century British man, Phileas Fogg (Frankie Alicea-Ford) is a member of the private Reform Club. Living a mundane life, he decides to bet the members that he can travel around the entire globe in 80 days for twenty thousand pounds.
After the bet is approved, Phileas and his French valet, Passepartout (Audrey Eytchison), start on their journey. They frequently run into the obsessed Inspector Fix (Director of Connectivity, AJ Knox), who believes that Phileas is a bank robber.
Eason’s writing appeals to both children and adults. Her prose creates suspense as Phileas and Passepartout face numerous obstacles on their travels.
In addition, Founder and Executive Artistic Director, Kristianne Kurner, incorporates original musical numbers from The Shantyannes in the show.
They have written catchy songs such as “The Journey Begins,” “The Ballad of Captain Blossom” and the big finale, “Welcome Brother,” and their songs succeed as earworms that might get stuck in a lot of theatregoers’ heads. It’s impressive how the music and lyrics from members, Joseph Freeman and Renee Moreno, tie into Eason’s preexisting script.
Some tunes could benefit from an extra verse or two, with “Red Sea Watlz” and “Searelli,” feeling too short, and “Sledge Ride,” slowing the plot down without adding much to the narrative.
However, an onstage band, led by music director, Tony Houck, plays each of the songs well, and members are dressed as marauders themselves, thanks to Emily Wilson’s visually striking costumes. Conductor/keyboardist Houck, drummer/percussionist Nobuko Kemmotsu, guitarist, Andrew Snyder, and bassist, Kyle Bayquen, wonderfully perform music that represent the emotions of the various characters featured in Verne’s text, from the reserved Phileas to the more eccentric Passepartout.
Kurner stages scenes with an emphasis on Cassie Langan’s props to represent different locations and modes of transportation. Both come up with creative choices to dramatize scenes in London, Calcutta, New York and other iconic places.
Other memorable visual components are Tanya Orellana’s set, which is pirate ship-themed, Jonah Gercke’s projections, made up largely of silent film footage and illustrations and Becky Goodman’s lighting (particularly when Phileas and Fix are introduced to the audience by the use of their silhouettes).
While the quality of accents varies in the cast, there is plenty of strong acting and signing, especially from the ensemble members.
Some issues with Eason’s writing is that Phileas is occasionally too apathetic (despite proving to be a generous man) and the jokes for Passepartout feels directed at kids compared to the universal humor of the other roles. Yet Alicea-Ford and Eytchison are at their best acting opposite each other, since they movingly showcase the growth of Phileas and Passepartout’s relationship.
As the other important Verne characters, Dinga acts with elegant courage and sings beautifully as the Indian-European princess, Aouda, and Knox is a hoot with his hilarious acting, singing and dancing to Jenna Ingrassia-Knox’s comedic choreography.
Portraying multiple roles, Alexander X Guzman, Olivia Pence, Jasmine January and Rae Henderson act similar to a Greek Chorus, moving the narrative together through song. Each of them helps keep the energy of the staging high with funny depictions of various people.
Education Artistic Associate, Samantha Ginn, runs a program, “The Mainstage Players,” that teaches acting to students with special needs and neurological differences. Each performance contains two roles that are played by a different student in the acting group. On opening night, Rachel Ford received plenty of deserved applause as a Beggar Person and Reform Club Member.
Lighthearted music from The Shantyannes and unique direction from Kurner turn the Carlsbad interpretation of Vernes’ novel into a solid expedition. I hope this is the first of many musicals for the talented Freeman and Moreno.