Around the World in 80 days at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is faithful to the Jules Verne novel on which it is based. I say this as if you are a fan of the work then get your tickets to the show now. If you are not, well I am not sure if this will change your mind, however that shouldn’t deter you from making the trip.
Don’t mistake me, this is top of the line theatre work. It’s just that I walked away from the show feeling a bit indifferent. This is no fault of the show’s company of eight. Each of the performers in the show give an amazing, and in the case of Lance Baker as Phileas Fogg and Ravi Batista as Mrs. Aouda, effecting performances. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the performances of Usman Ally, Ericka Ratcliff and Joe Dempsey. I would be a fool if I didn’t also include Kevin Douglas as the well traveled Passepartout. Every time Passepartout is on stage there is a certain energy I always wanted around and at one point was disappointed to lose, only temporarily mind you.
The story, for me, just felt a bit flat. I feel bad for saying this as I recommend seeing this show even if you are not a fan of the story due to how fantastic it is. With a creative and beautiful set design that is a sight to behold and easily one of the best I have seen this season; all the elements of a perfect show are here. The usage of the map to track Fogg on his journey in addition to the type of travel at the top and location at right, it’s all very effective.
It’s odd that I feel so conflicted by this show. Some of the themes it contains are as contemporary now as they were when the source material was written. For example Fogg’s Bradshaw Guide is that day’s iPhone App for departure times. His sighting of knowledge by way of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society or the Geographical Journal the Wikipedia or National Geographic of these times. His detachment near antisocial behavior short of his time at the Reform club, which many claim the internet while ‘connecting’ us more than ever in a world where every one is on Facebook, is actually doing less so. These are all things that continue to ring true.
In the end I easily recommend making the journey to catch Around the World in 80 Days at the Rep. It’s great shows and art like this that crawl into your head and stay there for days afterward. I suspect that I will be waging battle in my mind about it for weeks to come. Odd, given that it seems like a simple tale on the surface, but I feel that there may be more than what is there on it’s surface.
by John Coovert