Around the World in 80 Days a Holiday Treat by TheatreWorks

The intrepid travelers buy an elephant to continue their journey in Around the World in 80 Days at TheatreWorks at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. (l-r) Jason Kuykendall, Ron Campbell & Michael Gene Sullivan.

Around the World in 80 Days: Musical. Adapted by Mark Brown from the novel by Jules Verne. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks, Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA. or 650-463-1960

Around the World in 80 Days a Holiday Treat by TheatreWorks Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

November 29 – December 31, 2017

The Dramatic Publishing Company in their advertisement for the script of  Around the World in 80 Days. “Adapted by Mark Brown. From the novel by Jules Verne. Full-length Play; Comedy; Cast size: 4m., 1w., may be expanded to 39 actors.” TheatreWorks has elected to use five actors with a twist. The two main characters are Phileas Fogg and his valet Jean Passepartout who set out on a journey to circle the globe in the 1870s in the unrealistic time of 80 days. For this production Passepartout, one of the “male” actors, is played by a woman. That woman is diminutive Tristan Cunningham and she almost steals the show with agile body movements learned from her eight year stint with Vermont’s Circus Smirkus before she turned 18.

If you wish to spend two hours plus watching a hilarious whirl-wind staging of Around the World in 80 Days get thee hence to Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre for TheatreWork’s Holiday offering. It is difficult to select adjectives since it is a combination of Theater of the Absurd, slapstick comedy and Victorian satire. It brings to mind Kabuki theatre of exaggeration with satirical kick from overacting and its bite from the character’s words, actions and attributes.

The play opens in Victorian London, with a very proper, compulsive, demanding Phileas Fogg (a very wooden Jason Kuykendall) sacking his manservant because his tea was 2 minutes late and not the proper temperature. Enter Passepartout a French manservant who fills the vacancy noting that he is perfect for the job and as the journey progresses more than earns his worth.

Phileas goes to the Reform club where 3 members are discussing a recent bank robbery. The topic changes to the advent of modern transportation ending with Phileas making a large wager that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Poor Passepartout must prepare within hours. Preparation only involves carrying a traveling bag filled with English pounds that will pave the way suggesting that money will buy anything and does even in the direst situations. There are multitudes of those situations.

Alas there is Detective Fix (Michael Gene Sullivan’s major role) who “knows” that the bundle of cash that Plieas has is the loot from the bank robbery. The interaction between Passepartout, protective of his master, and Detective Fix carries a good part of the comic humor in gesture, action and convoluted banter. But the major humor is created by the timbre-voiced Ron Campbell with his comic timing and ability to change clothing and demeanor in split seconds. He makes the banal task of stamping passports and other documents a total laugh riot.

The journey is from London to Suez, Suez to Bombay, Bombay to Calcutta, Calcutta to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Yokohama, Yokohama to San Francisco, San Francisco across the plains to the East Coast and steamer to London. The travails heaped upon them fail to daunt the unflappable Fogg with “Detective” Fix hot on his trail.

While in India, Fogg breaks his stern facade to aid in the rescue of Indian maid, Aouda (the beautiful Ajna Jai) who is being forced to lie on the funeral pyre of her dead husband. The physical maneuvers of Tristan Cunningham are eye-popping as Passepartout carries out the rescue. The entire cast has to share the accolades with the staging that includes a simulated typhoon, trips by elephant, train, rail sled, and various steamers. Each is worthy of a trip to the theater.

The non-stop action is performed on a unique set with sliding panels within the colorful facades that change frequently even with props being handed from the orchestra pit. The set converts to train carriages, steamer decks and a psychedelic elephant. There are gunfights with Indians, a train that jumps over a washed out bridge and even a snow storm. The huge elephant prop is a knockout. The clever costumes (B. Modern) are designed for easy changes except for beautiful multicolored outfits worn by Aouda after she discards her sari.

During the first act the audience did not respond with the expected laughter but were rewarded when the second act exploded into great fun.  All ends well. Fogg loves Aouda, the real bank robber is caught, the wager is won and Phileas Fogg becomes, if it is possible, a loveable Victorian.

As post script: There is no balloon trip that was used in the movie and author Brown emphasizes that there is no balloon trip in Jules Verne’s original story.

CAST: Phileas Fogg is Jason Kuykendall; Tristan Cunningham, as Jean Passepartout; Michael Gene Sullivan as Detective Fix; Ron Campbell as Cromarty; Ajna Jai as Aouda, the Indian princess.

CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic Designer, Joe Ragey;  Costume Designer, B. Modern;  Lighting Designer, Steven B. Mannshardt;  Sound Designer, Cliff Caruthers; Dialect Coach, Kimberly Mohne Hill; Casting Director, Leslie Martinson; Stage Manager, Randall K. Lum.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of