Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Featuring: Jason Kuykendall, Tristan Cunningham, Michael Gene Sullivan, Ron Campbell and Ajna Jai
Foley and special effects by: Cameron Wells b>Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: November 29 through December 31, 2017
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $40-$100 (savings available) subject to change. Visit https://theatreworks.org/201718-season/201718-season/around-the-world-in-80-days/ or call 650-463-1960
Yes, the Grinch got to me this Christmas season. Too much work in my straight job, too little money to buy gifts for people I love.
But TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has ridden to my rescue with two wonderful, delightful, funny shows.
On December 5, I walked into the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto in a pissy, cranky mood. About two hours later I walked out again, with joy in my heart and smile on my face, after having laughed myself silly for the brilliant production of "Around the World in 80 Days."
On December 8, I walked into the Lohman Theatre in Los Altos Hills in another pissy, cranky mood. (It's the nature of my job.) About two hours later I walked out again, with joy in my heart and smile on my face, after having laughed myself silly for the brilliant production of "The Santaland Diaries."
Thank you, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
TheatreWorks founder Robert Kelley described the company's thinking in his director's notes for "Around the World in 80 Days," "At TheatreWorks we consider our holiday shows a special gift to our community, a chance to share the joy, energy, and good will of the season with our friends throughout the Bay Area."
"Daddy Long Legs" in 2016, "Jane Austen's ‘Emma'" in 2015, "Peter and the Starcatcher" in 2014, "Little Women" in 2013, "Big River" in 2012, were all delightful "special gifts" to the TheatreWorks community.
This year, TheatreWorks is offering two shows, although only one of them, "Around the World in 80 Days," is likely to be fully accepted as family fare. David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries," while full of colorful charms, costume and props, might be a little off-putting to some sensitive parents and their kiddies. "Why is Santa's elf drinking all that beer and using bad words, Mommy?"
Still, both are hilarious, and while they are not free gifts, tickets are reasonable, and discounts are available, especially to people younger than 35 for "Around the World in 80 Days" at the Lucie Stern Theatre, and for students for "The Santaland Diaries" at the Lohman Theatre (on the campus of Foothill College.
So, if like me, you are given to pissy, cranky moods, do yourself a favor: Go see either or both of these wonderful gifts from TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
the globe at Lucie Stern Theatre
of 'Around the World in 80 Days'
The show starts with the great Ron Campbell by the door at audience right, telling us that the cast is "still trying to perfect it, so your reactions will help us decide if we like you or not."
He also manages to get in the usual notices about turning off those noisy electric devices, and pointing out where the exits are. "For dyslexics, tixe, tixe, tixe," he says.
Welcome to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley's deeply hilarious and completely delightful production of "Around the World in 80 Days" at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.
Campbell is brilliant in the show, playing 20 characters, thanks to his matchless command of different dialects, and thanks to costume designer B. Modern, who triumphs with amazing costumes, wigs and facial hair that are changed at light speed.
Michael Gene Sullivan is another great quick-change artist, playing mostly Detective Fix, but also several other characters, who each gets an idiosyncratic accent. The story is the Jules Verne tale of Phileas Fogg, who takes on a bet for 20,000 pounds that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days — unheard of in 1872.
He's very precise and non-emotional, this Fogg, who is played with solid imperiousness by Jason Kuykenall — at least until he meets the lovely Indian woman, Aouda, played with beauty and charm by Ajna Jai. Then we see a more human side of him.
But when we first meet him, he declares that "The unforeseen does not exist," when talking with his club cronies, and not much later announces he has fired his servant because his shaving water was two degrees cooler than it should have been.
Which is how Passepartout gets the job, and becomes Fogg's companion on his global adventure. Tristan Cunningham is delightful in the role, standing up for Fogg when necessary, facing down Detective Fix early on, and getting hammered in a Chinese opium den during one particular stop.
Cunningham has been performing since she was 10, in Vermont's Circus Smirkus, and brings a light of natural charm and liveliness to the role. None of B. Modern's costumes or the little mustache on her face hide the fact that she is, in fact, a beautiful young woman, not a young man. She also plays at least one more role. Also, she is an excellent gymnast, which crops up in her performance.
Fogg has efficiently planned out exactly how much time he needs for the journey. A voyage on a clipper ship goes faster than planned, so great! When he gets to India and finds that a young woman is going to be sacrificed by a cult, he consults his watch and says he has an extra 12 hours, and can use it to save the woman.
The woman turns out to be Jai, who is very, very pretty in a fancy sari, and eventually also gorgeous in elegant traveling gowns. Fogg is smitten, and we have no problem understanding why.
The five people in the cast are terrific together, under the direction of Robert Kelley, and amuse the audience with endless coordinated stunts involving travel by train, ship, elephant, and a wind-blown sled that slides rapidly across the American Great Plains.
Joe Ragey's set is delightful, with huge arcs of railroad tracks on either side of the stage — tracks that are eventually taken apart by the cast to burn in the boiler room of a steamship that needs the extra help. Also, a huge globe in the background, and G-scale train that can be seen far upstage during the various train scenes.
The big elephant by which part of India is crossed is a thing of beauty.
Lighting, sets, costumes, sound — including partly visible foley artist Cameron Wells in the orchestra pit — are all excellent, but the true delight of this show is just watching this brilliant cast perform.
Campbell and Sullivan are both seasoned pros at this multiple-character business, but the other three are all terrific performers as well. Such a delight to see them all on stage.
Email John Orr at email@example.com