nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 14, 2008
Eighty-1 is a new musical that brings Phileas Fogg and the rest of Jules Verne's 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days into the 21st century. In the year 2011, a journalist, "Fixey" Fix, turns up evidence that the first Fogg won his bet to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days fraudulently. To restore the family honor, Fogg's great-grandson, also named Phileas, undertakes to re-create the journey. In tow is his "trainer," J.P. Passepartout, also a descendant of a character in the novel (and Fixey and the villain of the piece, Fogg's rival Ralph Sullivan, are similarly related to people in the original).
The emphasis in this version, which has book and lyrics by Mary Stewart-David and music by Clive Chang, is less on adventure and more on screwball comic romance: Fixey is a lady, you see, and she and Fogg have one of those Woman of the Year/Cheers love/hate relationships that you know is going to blossom into the "real thing" before the final blackout.
Nevertheless, plot elements from the original are frequently repeated in Eighty-1, including most notably the sudden appearance of an Indian "princess" whom Fogg saves from apparent immolation and then sort-of falls in love with. This aspect of the plot is indicative of the show's major weakness, which is its retention of Verne's 19th century sensibility within a story set in the future. I was hopeful that the creators of Eighty-1 would exploit some of the myriad ways that the world has changed (and gotten smaller) in their adaptation; instead, they've saddled their characters with attitudes and notions that feel very dated, almost as if the British Empire's sun had not indeed set decades before most of them were born. (And calling the Indian woman "a dusky-skinned maiden," as one line here does, feels a little reductive, if not racist.)
There are frequent lapses in logic in the piece as well (such as having Fogg travel from India to Hong Kong to Singapore to Japan, which would definitely cause him to do some backtracking; have a look at this map).
All of this, along with the very bare-bones presentation (no set, one prop, one piano, no real costumes to speak of) all led me to wonder what condition Eighty-1 is actually in: it finally felt more like a reading (admittedly with the cast off book) than a festival-ready production.
There are some talented people worthy of note involved, including composer Chang, whose melodies are attractive and often memorable, and leading men Daniel Lincoln and Brayden Hyde as Fogg and Passepartout, respectively.
A chamber musical contemporizing Verne's famous novel seems like a workable idea for a musical adventure, and perhaps with further development, Stewart-David and Chang will realize their goals for Eighty-1.