BWW Review: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, Theatre Raleigh
Theatre Raleigh's first show of their 2019-2020 Family Series, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, is a fetching and cute musical suitable for the whole family. It's a simplified concise adaptation of the 1873 Jules Verne novel of the same name packed down into a sixty-minute run time. With an adventure story, talented cast, and playful set, it's a show well worth seeing, especially if you have young children.
The show's book and lyrics were written by Claybourne Elder, with music by Rodney Bush, and it premiered in its original form at Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 2017. This production is its world premiere in its updated form. It is directed by Jenny Latimer, a friend of Elder's, who makes the show entertaining and enjoyable for all ages. There are bean bags near the front where children are encouraged to sit to give them the best view of the action.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS tells the story of an eccentric millionaire, Phileas Fogg (Nick McNeil), who makes a bet against the men at his club that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days. He is accompanied by his newly hired manservant, Passepartout (Aidan Triola), who hilariously hates travelling. On their voyage they meet Aouda (Emily Tolnay), a damsel who is decidedly not in distress, and Detective Fix (a role shared by Becca Norman and Betsy Scarisbrick).
The cast, despite their youth, are all talented with lovely voices. They're engaging with the audience and have the charm to pull off the slightly zany nature of the show and the small bits of audience interaction. Nick McNeil brings charisma to the role of Phileas, while Aidan Triola shines as the goofier Passepartout. Eimly Tolnay stands out as the independent and fun-loving Aouda. On the night I saw the show, Betsy Scarisbrick was on as Detective Fix and did well as the 'Master of Disguise.'
The musical definitely has some major changes from the original tale. While at one point a character mentions that it is 1901, there is little other than a few costume pieces to enforce it. Detective Fix has been changed from a man to a woman and a romance between her and Passepartout has been added. There is a noticeable effort to make the story more feminist; Aouda asks at one point, "You think I'm some kind of feminine trope?" If the message feels a bit hard-handed, it's easy to accept that it's so that children will comprehend it.
Elder and Bush's delightful music isn't particularly memorable, but it serves the piece well. The scenic design by Becca Johnson is a highlight, despite its simplicity. The main set piece is an old-fashioned trunk on wheels that is adjusted to function as everything from a boat to a train to an elephant throughout the show. Ruthie Allen's bright and colorful costumes are another strong point.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS runs until October 27 at the Kennedy Theatre at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Theatre Raleigh's next family show isn't until March so you definitely don't want to miss your opportunity to see it. Though it's definitely aimed at children, the show's themes of friendship, identity, and adventure will connect with those of all ages.