Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” tells the story of British gentleman-turned-adventurer Phileas Fogg as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days in order to win a bet. Penfold Theatre’s adaptation of that story (playing, for free, through June 24 at the Round Rock Amphitheater) has turned it into a fun, frenzied, family-friendly outdoor production with a direct message of female empowerment.
In taking on Verne’s novel, director and adapter Emily Rankin has made two decisive choices — to turn the story into a comedy, and to turn the two main characters from men into women. Indeed, the first moments of the play address this very circumstance, with the narrator (played by Megan Sherrod) expecting to introduce Phileas Fogg but finding herself confronted, instead, by Ms. Phyllida Fogg (Jessica Hughes).
Similarly, Phyllida’s valet and sidekick, Passepartout (Eva McQuade), becomes female, while love interest Aouda from the novel becomes Sir Niles Adams (Ryan Crowder). The majority of the narrative still follows much of the same story beats as Verne’s novel, with Phyllida and Passepartout desperately trying to stay on schedule as Detective Fix (Robert Berry) following doggedly behind them, believing that Phyllida has robbed a bank back in London.
With the exception of Hughes, each member of the show’s cast must assume a variety of personalities (particularly Tanuj Potra, credited as playing “everyone else”), often with broad, cartoonish characteristics. Though this constant back-and-forth means that there’s limited development for most of the characters, it plays well to the show’s primary audience of children and families.
“Around the World in 80 Days” is goofy, with sight gags and corny jokes aplenty, and it knows not to take itself too seriously. The show’s set (designed by Chris Conard) and props deliberately evoke laughter rather than striving for verisimilitude, focusing the show’s energy instead on the wackiness of the characters’ misadventures and interactions.
Indeed, the show excels at presenting a fun, engaging romp of an adventure that draws in the younger audience members (sometimes literally, when they are asked to come to the stage and participate as extras). There’s enough metatextual humor and wordplay to keep the older crowd engaged, though, particularly in the humorous asides of McQuade as Passepartout. Meanwhile, Berry, as Detective Fix, is given the biggest opportunity by the script to show his character’s depth, while Hughes commands the stage as a strong, confidant, empowering leading lady.
Penfold Theatre’s “Around the World in 80 Days” is pure charm, designed to delight children while still entertaining their parents. At this, it definitely succeeds.
Around the World in 80 Days
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 24
Where: Round Rock Amphitheater, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock