In its original incarnation, Around the World in Eighty Days was an 1873 adventure novel by Jules Verne. In its latest version- a world premiere of Claybourne Elder’s fun script put on by Theatre Raleigh as part of its delightful family series- it is still full of fun, excitement, and adventure, but in a wonderfully lighthearted way that’s suitable for all ages.
The youthful story, brought to life by exciting live music and colorful direction and musical staging by Jenny Latimer, centers around the charming homebody Passepartout (Aidan Triola). And, if you can’t say his character’s name, don’t worry. It will be pronounced for you, syllable by syllable, over and over again, throughout this playful script.
Introduced via a fanciful musical number about how much he hates to travel, Triola’s Passepartout is instantly likeable as he gets roped into working for eccentric millionaire Phileas (Nick McNeil), who has placed an illogical and purposeless bet that he can travel around the world, before planes existed, in 80 short days- days which are joyfully counted down, with audience participation, via a calendar-style countdown boldly posted at the center of Becca Johnson’s simple but effective set.
Clad all in stark, royal purple, McNeil’s takes-himself-too-seriously rendering of Phileas serves as the perfect counterbalance to Triola’s silly, over-the-top, kid-friendly Passepartout as they run through this fast-paced romp, perfectly designed so as to catch and keep the attention of young viewers.
Cute and well-done choreography, repetitive sound effects, and plenty of energy also contribute to the kid-friendly vibe of the production, which elicited joyful, childish giggles from start to finish at Friday’s opening night performance.
As more characters join in on the action, including Becca Norman’s hilarious Detective Fix and Emily Tolnay’s adorable, bubbly, scene-stealing Aouda, the fun only intensifies. These characters travel all over the globe, thanks to a cleverly designed trunk that functions as an elephant, train, ship, sleeping quarters, and more due to incredibly innovative add-ons, many of which impressively transform this central set-piece at a faster-than-light speed.
Wonderfully imagined and filled with songs with subtext-filled lyrics, this musical is positively amazing for the little ones, yet clever and tongue-in-cheek enough to entertain the adults. The perfect family piece, Around the World in 80 Days is an absolute blast and fills a much-needed niche for family-friendly theatre in the Triangle.
In fact, it’s this- that Theatre Raleigh is taking the time to create and produce quality shows that can help kids to fall in love with theatre at a young age- that is most impressive. Take the kids, or just take yourself. You won’t be disappointed!