News Column

Commonweal's '80 Days' is mash-up of music, adventure

July 3, 2014

By Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

July 03--LANESBORO -- How much you like the Commonweal Theatre's new production of "Around the World in 80 Days" could depend on how much you enjoy watching the cast disco-dancing in a show set in the 1870s.

Or perhaps you could widen your horizons, much as Phileas Fogg did when he made his trip around the world.

That's the challenge facing audiences attending this play, which opened last weekend at the Commonweal. "Around the World in 80 Days," adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne's novel, and directed for the Commonweal by Alan Bailey, seems an odd combination of movie theme songs, action adventure and physical comedy. Fogg must have been equally confused when he ventured forth from England for the first time to travel to the exotic lands of the far-flung British Empire.

For him, the clash of cultures involved customs, costumes and modes of transportation. For the audience, the world might seem equally upside down when the "Dragnet" theme pops up with the appearance of a detective, or when "Walk Like an Egyptian," complete with '80s choreography, is heard as Fogg reaches the Middle East.

The cast deals with the dancing with as much dignity and dexterity as possible. More importantly, the actors create characters who are believable, and tell a story that we become caught up in. David Hennessey is Fogg, who becomes noticeably more accommodating as his tour goes along (and as he falls in love). Adrienne Sweeney is charming as Fogg's French valet, who has a knack for getting in and out of trouble, and has an enviable ability to pour from a teapot while riding an elephant.

Hal Cropp is the London detective who joins the trip when he suspects Fogg's fortune was not legally earned. Diana Jurand plays multiple characters, including the young woman Fogg rescues in India and brings back to London. And Gary Danciu tries out a variety of accents from at least four continents.

The cast really hits its stride in the dead-on satire of America as Fogg races across the country. That racing is part of what makes this a story of adventure and suspense -- a tale that one suspects could be trusted to entertain audiences without the assistance of the Bangles and "Kung Fu Fighting."

But then, we wouldn't be challenged to do what Fogg did: throw tradition aside and expand our horizons.


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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