Around the world
Written & Directed by Mary Stewart-David
Composed by Clive Chang
Choreographed by Kate Loprest
Presented by FAÇADE (firstname.lastname@example.org)
International Theatre Festival (www.midtownfestival.org)
June Havoc Theatre, 312 W. 36th Street, 1st floor
Non-union production (through
Review by Byrne Harrison
Eighty-1, a new musical by Mary Stewart-David and Clive Chang, brings together the great-grandchildren of several of the characters from Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, and has them recreate Phileas Fogg's original trip around the world. For reporter 'Fixey' Fix (Nicole Weiss) it's a chance to catapult to stardom. For Ralph Sullivan (David Albiero), it's a chance to get a little revenge. For Phileas Fogg IV (Daniel Lincoln) and JP Passepartout (Brayden Hade), the journey offers a chance to redeem their forefathers' names, which were called into question by some dubious accusations by Fixey, and maybe get a chance at love.
Featuring some wonderful music by Clive Chang, this reimagining of Verne's classic is a pleasant enough diversion, though a great deal of that is due to the actors, rather than Stewart-David's book and direction. The play seems a little rushed at times and can't quite decide if it wants to be a wacky musical comedy or a traditional love story. As a result, some of the songs, especially the wistful 'How He Gets the Girl' and 'Romance for Beginners,' don't seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the book, which is more broadly humorous.
In addition, Stewart-David's direction is a bit slower paced than the book seems to call for. Dialogue that is written to sound like witty banter from the movies of the '30s and '40s slows, and sounds instead like the actors are slightly unsure of who is meant to speak next. However, from a visual standpoint, Stewart-David makes good use of the nearly bare stage, and though at times allowing the actors to cluster front and center, creates some good stage pictures.
As mentioned before, the actors are the saving grace of this play. All of them have remarkably good voices, with particular praise going to Daniel Lincoln and Jen Anaya, who plays Princess Aleysha, the Indian "princess" whom JP and Phileas save from immolation. As Fixey Fix, Nicole Weiss gives the brassy reporter her all, not only doing well with the dialogue, but also creating a physicality for Fixey that hints at her desire to constantly be on the move, both in her career and in love. Brayden Hade as JP Passepartout does an excellent job playing someone who has often been in the shadows of his illustrious friend, but in many respects doesn't seem to mind. Both David Albiero and John Anthony Lopez do an admirable job playing the various remaining characters.
One other difficulty with Eighty-1 in its current incarnation is that it seems to be, despite being set nearly four years in the future, a decidedly old show. There is a Victorian feel to the characters that seems to be more a holdover from Verne's original than a commentary on it. Having modern characters being forced to travel in Victorian modes of transportation provides numerous opportunities to comment both on that society and today's; however, Eighty-1 rarely takes advantage of this discordance.
Despite the problems with the book and the direction, Eighty-1 is a cute musical featuring a well-written score and a pleasant cast.
Copyright 2008 by Byrne Harrison
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