Review: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at The American Pops Orchestra

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Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a classic novel that has stood the test of time–one hundred and forty-five years, to be exact–and been adapted into multiple media forms since its original publication in 1873.

Now, breathing new life into Verne’s adventure, The American Pops Orchestra presented their own musical adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days this past weekend. Claybourne Elder wrote the script and, coupled with Kelly Crandall d’Amboise’s direction, this new version does a masterful job bringing the epic story to the stage.

APO’s production begins with Benjamin Luyre as Passepartout (pronounced Pass-par-too), the newly hired manservant to the highly detail-oriented Phileas Fogg (Nurney Mason), explaining his boss’ obsession with precision and expediency. Fogg finally appears and informs Passepartout, who had only just finished lamenting the travails of travel, that he has made a wager and must prove that he can travel around the world in 80 days. The two men must pack and leave at once.

Claybourne Elder’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is an exceptional piece of theater that makes you laugh until your face hurts. The performers dive into their characters and build the energy and excitement throughout the musical, not letting up until the journey is over.

Unbeknownst to Fogg, Detective Fix (Hilary Morrow), having mistaken Fogg for a wanted thief, is following him on his journey. Fix goes through a plethora of silly disguises but continuously fails to get a hold of Fogg’s red travel bag, which she believes holds the stolen goods.

Tiara Whaley plays Aoudo, a stranded woman Fogg and Passepartout meet while in India. She is a free-spirit and her desire to live life to the fullest comes in sharp contrast to Fogg’s ‘scheduled to the last second’ life. But despite Fogg’s protests, Aouda joins the men in their travels and eventually proves to be invaluable to the successful completion of their goal.

Elder’s script sticks to the main crux of Verne’s adventure, with some details tweaked to reflect modern themes, and includes American pop classics like “Come Fly with Me,” “When You’re Smiling,” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

The creative team successfully portrays the circumnavigation of the globe with minimal set and a lot of imagination. The different locations are noted with various signs and the cast tracks how many days are left in the journey by using a large flip-pad that counts down from 80 to 1. Most impressive, though, is the use of a rolling travel chest that actors push around the stage and adorn with assorted props to represent a boat, an elephant, and a train.

Luke S. Frazier, the Founder of The American Pops Orchestra and Musical Director, describes the show as “a heartwarming tale of new friendships and new experiences.” And that is a perfect description of the piece, which takes the major plot-line of Verne’s story, but focuses only on the interactions of the four main characters. The story is transformed into an adventure that highlights the importance of friendship, personal growth, and trying new things.

From top to bottom, the show is filled with hilarious moments in a concoction of wit, slapstick, tongue-in-cheek, and general tomfoolery. The production is geared towards all-ages and has non-stop silliness to hold the interest of the younger audience members, while constantly lobbing jokes for the mature crowd over their heads.

References to the current dismantling of the patriarchy are cleverly inserted. Whaley’s Aouda makes clear, when first meeting Fogg, that she is in no way a damsel in distress and is in complete control of her situation, despite the horde of villagers chasing after her. Whaley is adorable and has an infectious smile. She gives Aouda an undiminishing positivity and love for life that radiates from her and slowly seeps into the cracks of Fogg’s hard exterior.

Morrow kills in the role of likable antagonist Detective Fix. She elongates every moment, finding the humor that many impatient actors would over-look, the sound effect of a cracking whip punctuating her movement.

Lurye, as Passepartout, is charming and takes the slights from Fogg in stride. Mason’s Fogg can’t even spare the time to learn how to properly pronounce his employee’s name, constantly calling Passepartout some variation of “Flo-flay-floo,” which is simultaneously awful and hilarious. But the two men develop a genuine friendship over the course of their trip, showing that Fogg has begun to soften under the influence of the good-natured Passepartout and spirited Aouda.

The live orchestra joins the actors on-stage, with Frazier playing the piano and conducting. The songs included are all familiar favorites and add to the fun-factor of the show. Lurye and Morrow have a tender moment with the lovely “When You’re Smiling.” And Whaley and Mason’s connection starts to transform with the sweet “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You.”

Claybourne Elder’s adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is an exceptional piece of theater that makes you laugh until your face hurts. The performers dive into their characters and build the energy and excitement throughout the musical, not letting up until the journey is over.

APO’s Around the World in 80 Days is a family-friendly musical that is one solid hour of side-splitting laughter. The cast brings a perfect mix of drop-dead gorgeous vocals, physicality, and comedic absurdity that is an absolute joy to watch. My three boys, ranging from 9-12, attended with me. Watching how engaged they were and sharing that pure enjoyment of live theater with them was a beautiful thing that I know they will remember for a long time, and left us feeling warm and fulfilled even as we ventured back out into the cold.

Running time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Around the World in 80 Days played on January 6, 2017, at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater – 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington, DC. For more information on The American Pops Orchestra, go online.

1 COMMENT

  1. BTW, the names are spelled Passepartout (French for “goes everywhere”) and Aouda.

    Question: Is any of Victor Young’s original music for the movie used:
    Sky Symphony, Invitation to Bullfight, India Countryside, Around the World, Passepartout Theme, Prairie Sail Car?

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