Around The World in 80 Days - New York

Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing two rather handsomely dressed gentlemen dressed in bow ties and bowler hats while walking through Times Square after dropping a friend off for her train back to Jersey. They told me that the Off-Broadway production of Around The World in 80 Days was doing a promotion where they were giving out free ticket vouchers. I couldn't refuse when I had a couple hours to kill before attempting to lotto for Newsies tickets (I won the lotto and saw Newsies for a 4th time, so I was having a particularly serendipitous day). I took the voucher and headed off to The New Theater at 45th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue, or, if you're like me, between Kinky Boots and Schmackary's) to see the 2:30 show.


I was familiar with the classic tale of Phileas Fogg, a gentleman who has nearly neurotic tendencies toward quantifying the world around him who makes a wager that he can travel around the world in 80 days, as penned by Jules Verne. At the time it was published in the 19th century it was a more like a science fiction adventure novel, imagining a world where the technology of the time was extended past the capabilities of the time. Now it is a classic and inspires much of today's steampunk subculture.

It's been adapted hundreds of times. It's a fantastical tale, and as a storyteller, I love to see the way different versions and interpretations are brought to life. It's like hearing a new voice sing a beloved song from your childhood. I'm happy to say that the voice of The New Theater's creative team, including the entirety of the brilliant cast, writer Mark Brown, and everyone of the small team that built a rich world from comparatively little, is a joy to behold. It's also hilarious as all get out. (It should be noted that I had the pleasure of seeing understudy Joe Stipek go on as Passepartout.)


The New Theater is a a little blackbox theater. It's very intimate, being so small, but of course, having relatively little space to work with means you have to be very clever about the way you use it. Imagine having a stage about the size of a college dorm room and turning it into a space through which a journey around the globe takes place-- It's hard enough to imagine staging such a grand adventure even on a large stage. What the crew has accomplished in such a small space is truly fantastic. The smallness of the space draws you in and the actors can get much more personal with you as an audience member. As in, yeah, he really is making eye contact with you right now, because you are a passerby in this scene.

But the journey through space is not the only thing to be commended. The cast of 5 portrays over 30 characters. Talk about versatility-- every character is unique and brought to life by this brilliant cast. Jimmy Ray Bennett, who plays the most roles in the show, is absolutely amazing in how he portrays the expansive wealth of characters he plays. Such a talented guy. He absolutely blew me away, and I now have a huge talent-crush in this guy. The costumes are quite brilliant, not only visually, but in function-- the small stage results in a small backstage area and the small cast and numerous characters creates a need for distinctive looks that can be switched in and out of quickly so as to keep the fast-paced story moving. The costume team has done a fantastic job of this, and the staging is done to enable the costume changes to happen without interrupting the flow of the story. Brilliant all around.

Around The World in 80 Days NY

It's so refreshing to see a show that isn't built on big budgets and scores of dancers, because while those things are all well and good and even wonderful, storytelling like that is a charismatic popstar rocking out in a sold-out stadium, and storytelling like this is like a mysterious stranger singing in low tones into your ear. It is magical. It is at once comforting and thrilling in its closeness.

But on top of all this ingenuity and artistic splendor, the show is funny-- genuinely, side-splittingly, joyously funny. The script is self is fast-paced, quick, and witty with some very sharp jokes that will tickle you with the precision of wit and other, very intentionally blunt jokes, that will hit you more like a baseball bat in the gut, except instead of the wind (and probably a few tears) being knocked out of you, you'll instead burst with laughter like a piƱata. Admittedly, the tears may still come-- the physical comedy in this show is fantastic. If you grew up a fan of Dick Van Dyke and other brilliant physical comedians,  you will love this show. The actors very well carry these visual jokes as portrayed by their bodies, and it not only keeps the laughs coming, but the story moving and the space changing despite the small stage. The other key ingredient to the comedy in this show is the delivery and timing of each character's lines. Spot on. The best timing. So often an actor can lose or kill a joke by not giving the moment enough time to sizzle, or by overcooking it-- this 5 person cast nails it.

I loved it so much the first time, I went back and saw it again the next day, bringing along a friend. His mind was blown by what they were able to accomplish in a small space. In New York City, a land of excess, it is so easy to get swept away in the big Broadway productions with tons of set changes and dancers and lights and amazing technological gadgets-- but it is its own kind of wonderful to sit in a small theater and marvel at the sheer ingenuity of the creatives behind the show. "Money in, stuff out" is well and good, but "something out of nothing" is magic. Around the World in 80 Days is alchemy, talking something fairly austere and turning it into a rich, raucous, riveting world of humor and adventure. I highly recommend the show. :)


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3 comments:

  1. I'm so glad I came across your review. We're going to see the show on Friday and I'm so excited! It sounds like it's going to be wonderful =)

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    1. Did you enjoy the show as well? I'd love to hear your thoughts :)

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  2. I just came across your blog!
    I am now following you!
    Looking forward to getting to know you more through your blog!
    xo
    Christina
    pieceitalltogetherx3.blogspot.com

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