Valerie Canon, James Thompson, Michelle Lori, & Tory Parker. Photo: The Chamber Theatre
Around the World in Eighty Days
Based on Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Directed by Martin French
Music-directed by Jeanne Marie Rogers
A review by Jason Roseberry
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Jason Roseberry. All rights reserved.
“Very curious, very curious,” said Passepartout to himself, on returning to the steamer. “I see that it is by no means useless to travel if a man wants to see something new.”
-Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days
There is a big journey underway at the Mellwood Arts Center thanks to The Chamber Theatre in association with The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Louisville. Around the World in Eighty Days is a new play with music that Martin French (director) says was created through a collaborative process “making all of us (cast and crew) creators of the piece.”
Jules Verne’s novel follows Phileas Fogg (Michelle Lori), a rich British gentleman who chooses to live in solitude, save for a small social life as a member of the Reform Club. It is here that Fogg accepts a wager of £20,000 that he can make a trip around the world (thanks to a new railway section in India). Joined by his new valet, Passepartout (Valerie Canon), they depart with Fogg’s fortune.
Fogg and Passepartout are soon pursued and later joined by Detective Fix (Jay Padilla), who is convinced Fogg is the criminal responsible for a bank robbery. Of course, the travel arrangements do not go as planned, and the group meets a bevy of interesting characters including a young Indian woman (James Thompson) facing sati (genital mutilation). Verne’s novel ends with a presumed defeat, a misunderstanding, and, ultimately, a celebration.
The Chamber Theatre’s production follows Verne’s overall plot closely, but takes off from the original source material from there. For example, genders are swapped across the board, but the show retains the unequal gender dynamics of the time – just in reverse. Men are treated as the “wilting flowers” in need of protection and chaperoning. This change is used to comic effect throughout the show, but also makes clear and clever points as well.
The Chamber Theatre also adds some new characters: The Consul (Sami Hall), Paddy Whackery (Sean Childress), Faith (Cristina Martin), Hope (Mandy Kramer), and Charity (Kalaunee Rogers) – the embodiment of a theme/narrative device, Nelson Bly (Todd Rogers) who is representing the real-life Nellie Bly who took the journey in 72 days, The Papergirl (Sierra Conner) who guides our journey, and The Matchboy (Tory Parker) who appears as a multitude of matchboys. In addition, we have a Greek-type chorus – here named The Chorus – that includes Danielle Armstrong, Lisa Lanning, Patricia Perry, Jennifer Poliskie, Alex Seabrook, and JoAnne Sweeny who play additional parts and transition the action with songs from Gilbert & Sullivan shows, Broadway musicals, and much more.
The fun and the challenges with Around the World in Eighty Days are the same – there is a whole lot going on. The show works best when they find their own voice and depart from the source material with modern references (Cassius Clay, Louisville, Titanic, Star Wars, Clash of the Titans, Brexit, and many more that I am sure I missed). However, the production seems determined to check almost every box from the plot of the novel even though the audience would be fine with a more abridged travel agenda. Stylistically, it is eclectic, and it works very well when it embraces a Monty Pythonesque vibe such as a Boris Johnson send-up (featuring Poliskie), a series of phallic jokes with The Matchboy (Parker), and a clever end of Act One hallucination. The entire cast is talented and confident, and their passion for what they have created is evident.
The Chamber Theatre also does an excellent job setting the stage for the journey. The characters greet the audience as you walk in the door, offering passports, newspapers, and money – all of which the audience is asked to use throughout the evening in an engaging manner. These interactions are clever, fun, and the materials are quite effective. Michelle Lori’s Fogg is also quite strong – appearing in nearly every scene, and Valerie Canon channels her inner Frenchman alá John Cleese from Monty Python and The Holy Grail for Passepartout.
The Chamber Theatre’s Around the World in Eighty Days is “very curious” indeed, but it is a journey worth taking for the chance to “see something new.” If creating a new show was easy, well (as they say) everyone would do it. French and Rogers (along with the cast and crew) set an ambitious goal for themselves, and they are definitely on to something. What they have accomplished is impressive, and I hope they continue to shape and workshop the show towards future productions.
Around the World in 80 Days
November 11, 14, 15, & 16 @ 7:30 p.m
Tickets are $16 ($13 for students, senior citizens, and veterans), and are available the day of the show or at http://thechambertheatre.com.
The Chamber Theatre with The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Louisville
Community Hope Center
Mellwood Arts Center
1860 Mellwood Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Dr. Jason Roseberry is the Artistic Director of TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana, an alumni of the Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice program, and a past director at Silver Creek High School. Jason is also a playwright and lyricist. Some of his produced plays and musicals include: “Burke and Hare”, and “E.A. Poe, Into the Mind of Madness” both at (Edinburgh, Scotland Fringe Festival),”The Red Room” Off-Broadway, Louisville Repertory Company, (Humana Festival/Heideman Award Finalist), “The Invisible Man” (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville), “Finders Keepers” (OOB-Expanded Arts, Kitchen Sink Festival Winner), “Freshman Year” (Ball State University), and “Romeo & Rosaline” (SCHS, Indiana Thespian Festival). Jason is currently the Chief Innovation Officer for Five-Star Technology Solutions, an educational technology company.