Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati opened a revamped version of the delightfully spirited Around The World in 80 Days on Dec. 4 to a full house. The production is exactly what you would hope for from a family-friendly holiday show: a large and talented cast, an incredibly clever set, hilarious moments, beautiful songs, theatrical surprises and an early 7 p.m. show time so everyone can be back home and tucked into bed no later than 10 pm.
One of ETC’s first commissioned musicals, Around the World was first (and last) presented in 1999. This rebooted version of the Jules Verne classic of Phileas Fogg’s ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days was particularly poignant since the Cincinnati Streetcar project had been officially “paused” hours earlier.
Joseph McDonough (librettist) and David Kisor (composer and lyricist) have worked together on these holiday shows for 17 seasons so they have perfected the ETC musical brand. Director D. Lynn Meyers tops that off with an ace production team including Brian c. Mehring (set and lighting), Mary Eagen Murphy (costumes), Scot Woolley (music director), Joe Kovacs (Puppet Master) and Dee Anne Bryll (choreography). Around the World is charmingly choreographed, with the set and puppets moving as beautifully as the up to 17 actors onstage.
The only challenge with this large cast is deciding whom to watch during the fast-paced hour and 45 minute (one intermission) production. Michael Bath’s fumbling Frenchman, Passepartout, steals most of the laughs with his elastic, mischievous grin and terrific physical comedy. Pink Panther fans take note: there is an Inspector Clouseau moment or two just for you. Ken Early (Phileas Fogg) and Torie Wiggins (Aouda) share beautiful songs. Annie Fitzpatrick (Inspector Fix) is a lively foil for Early’s gentlemanly character and Bath’s drunken foolery.
The entire company shines. Whether ETC regular, intern, recent grad or newcomer, there is not a weak link. The ensemble moves as a unit and looks to be having a complete blast. Kisor’s score soars with strong voices throughout. The Act II song “Burn” was a standout as choreography, set and vocals were in complete syncopation.
Arts organizations are under considerable pressure to fine tune their brand. Under the patient direction of E. Lynn Meyers (who offers the most endearing curtain speech in the business), ETC has perfected both the science and the art of it. Around the World in 80 Days is entertaining, charming and heart-warming theater for the whole family. That’s the best kind of brand there is.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, continues through Jan. 4.