When Jules Verne’s frenetic adventure Around the World in Eighty Days was first published, the idea of circumnavigating the globe wasn’t a new one. But there was something about the way Verne wrote Phileas Fogg’s journey that made the book his most popular novel. It’s a narrative that has it all: danger, love, suspense, crime. Perhaps the only way to improve upon such a beloved story is to see it performed live!
Around the World in Eighty Days concerns very precise Englishman Phileas Fogg and his conscientious valet, Jean Passepartout, as they attempt to win a bet. They travel by boat, rail, land yacht, and even elephant to meet back at the Reform Club in London at 8:45 PM on December 21st. If Fogg is able to make it back in time, then he will receive 20,000 pounds. Along the way, he and Pasepartout rescue Aouda, an Indian woman, from being sacrificed. They are also pursued by a Scotland Yard detective named Fix, who mistakes Fogg for a bank robber.
Parkland College Theatre is presenting a stage version of Around the World in Eighty Days, under the direction of Tom Mitchell, beginning Friday, November 14th. I had the opportunity to correspond with Mitchell about this exciting adaptation.
Smile Politely: What drew you to the stage adaptation of Around the World in Eighty Days?
Tom Mitchell: The adaptation relies on a medium-sized cast and offers opportunities for actors to play very colorful characters—sometimes two or three of them.
SP: What can you tell me about the cast?
Mitchell: The cast, as in most Parkland Theatre productions, is a blend of students from Parkland College and community members. Nick Schneider, Keith Hays, and Trevor Ramsey, from the community, bring lots of stage experience to their roles. Jeremiah Lowry, who plays Phileas Fogg, is a recent graduate of the BFA Acting Program at the University of Illinois and has done shows at the Krannert Center and the Station Theatre, but this is his first show at Parkland.
SP: What’s it like to have a handful of actors portray such a variety of roles? How were you able to coax so many different characters out of the same five actors?
Mitchell: Although the script suggests a scheme for covering all the roles with only five actors, we have expanded the cast to 14 or so. Even with this number, many actors play two, three, or more characters. We try to create those characters with bold strokes—accents, habits, and lots of funny hats.
SP: What challenges has staging the production in the round presented?
Mitchell: The action of the play takes characters around the world—from London to Suez to Bombay to Calcutta to Hong Kong to Yokohama to San Francisco to New York to Liverpool and back to London. To do that in the round we needed a setting that would allow us to quickly establish many locations and keep the story moving. The costumes do a lot to establish locales and characters. In many ways it is like the novel, inviting the audience to imagine faraway places and “newfangled” means of transport.
SP: Are you able to tell me about your favorite part of the production without giving away any surprises?
Mitchell: Because the play has the sweep and energy of a romantic adventure, we use music from many of the adventure films of the 1930s and ’40s to underscore scenes and provide transitions. The soundtrack for the show by itself tells the story of traveling around the world in 80 days.
SP: What are you hoping the audience will take away from the production?
Mitchell: I hope that the audience has a good time. Jules Verne’s novel is a classic that many people have read at one time or other. It allows the reader (or the audience) to run away on an around-the-world journey to exotic locations, tangling with fascinating cultures, and watching the effect of the trip on the super-rational, organized, and orderly traveller, Phileas Fogg.
Just as Phileas Fogg kept moving, moving, moving back toward London, readers should do the same toward Parkland College Theatre to witness his fantastical voyage. Around the World in Eighty Days, presented in the round on the Parkland stage, runs from November 14th through 23rd. Tickets are $15 for adults and can be found on the Parkland website. Call 217-351-2528 for more details.