Friday, June 7, 2013

Around the World in 80 Days @ The New Theater at 45th Street

The French classic by Jules Verne has been warped and transformed many a time, and yet Mark Brown‘s comedic play takes this well-known story on a new journey. Advertised as “a fun frolic & fantastic update of the visionary classic”, the New Theater at 45th Street offers a production that is packed with astral wonders and prime laughs.

The ensemble cast of 5 acquires the task of portraying 39 different characters from this legendary book. Shirine Babb, Jimmy Ray Bennet, John Gregario, and Stephen Guarino, with Bryce Ryness as Phileas Fogg force one to admire the art of characterization. Lead by director Rachel Klein, the vibe was sharp, tight, and exact with a commedia dell arte sense. Comic timing was precise and thank god for that. Klein is quoted saying, “This production seeks to uphold Verne’s ability to awaken childlike wonder, to spark our imaginations, and peek into our futures -”. As it was, the production did in fact hold up the imagination of its audience to incredibly high levels.

With such a performance on stage, one would expect the set to live up to the world that Jules Verne’s imagination has set us in. Robert Andrew Kovach’s design brings this Nineteenth Century “around the world” experience to life. Featuring a panoramic mural spreading throughout the walls of the theatre and a giant projection screen shaped as a clock that is used in a most creative manner throughout the show, Kovach gives the audience just enough to look at without overwhelming them. With surprising secret compartments and the trick of pulling an elephant out of thin air, this set is as much a character as the actors themselves. Kate Freer’s projection design created magical transitions that left audience members transfixed, Ben Kato’s accent with lighting was sublime, and associate costume designer Kae Burke, with director Rachel Klein doubling as costume designer, gave a new meaning to the phrase “It’s all in the details,” creating pieces that were divine.

The combination of this crazy, comedic cast and the creatively talented production team behind them make for a night of good theatre. Go see it and get swept away in a production that will have you laughing for hours afterward.

In one word: Charming. 

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