Westport Country Playhouse will open its 79th season with a wild adventure for adults and children alike, "Around the World in 80 Days," adapted from the book by Jules Verne, written by Mark Brown and directed by Michael Evan Haney, April 21 through May 9.
In its successful off-Broadway run last year, the whirlwind, global adventure was hailed by the New Yorker as "a riveting testament to the ingeniousness of the human imagination," and heralded by Associated Press as "a clever, action-packed production skillfully directed by Michael Evan Haney."
"That Verne's sprawling novel is so inventively realized on stage by Mark Brown and Michael Evan Haney is a real feat of genuine theatrical imagination," said Westport Country Playhouse Artistic Director Mark Lamos. "With the creative use of props, sound effects, and transformative acting, they create a feast for the senses, transporting the characters and the audience on a voyage through time and geography. It makes for an exciting evening of theater and a great kick-off to our season."
A show for the whole family, "Around the World in 80 Days" is appropriate for children ages eight and up. Tickets for children 18 and under are $10 on Sunday matinees, April 26 and May 3, 3 p.m.; half price at all other performances.
Mark Shanahan, a Playhouse audience favorite, portrays Phileas Fogg, who wagers that he can travel around the world in 80 days or less. With his loyal valet Passepartout, he undertakes the amazing journey---complete with elephants, steamboats and trains. But the relentless Detective Fix is on his trail, believing that Fogg robbed the Bank of England.
Shanahan appeared last season at Westport Country Playhouse in "Tryst," and also was on the Playhouse stage in "Sedition," "Journey's End" and "David Copperfield." On the New York stage, he was in "The 39 Steps" last year.
The cast also includes Evan Zes as Passepartout, Jeff Biehl as Detective Fix, Andrew Grusetskie and Lauren Elise McCord. Foley artists are Elizabeth Helitzer and Mark Parenti.
Director Michael Evan Haney is the associate artistic director of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where he has directed "Around the World in 80 Days," among many other plays. Off-Broadway, he directed "Around the World in 80 Days" at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Regionally, he worked at Pacific Resident Theatre, where he won the Drama-Logue Award for direction. He directed "As the Wind Rocks the Wagon," a one-woman show written and performed by his wife, Amy Warner, in more than 100 venues including Lincoln Center Theater and The National Archives. Prior to his position at Cincinnati Playhouse he was the artistic director of Allenberry Playhouse, where he directed more than 30 plays.
Playwright Mark Brown is an award-winning writer and actor. Plays include the musical "China - The Whole Enchilada," voted Outstanding Musical - 2008 New York Fringe Festival, "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge," "The Little Prince" (co-written with Paul Kiernen) and "Poe: Deep Into That Darkness Peering" (co-written with Mark Rector).
The play is adapted from the novel by Jules Verne (1828-1905), a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1864) and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (1869-1870). "Around the World in Eighty Days" was written in 1873. Verne wrote about space, air and underwater travel before navigable aircraft and practical submarines were invented, and before any means of space travel had been devised.
The production team includes Joseph Tilford, scenic design; David K. Mickelsen, costume design; Betsy Adams, lighting design; David AnDrew Levy, sound design; Mark Parenti, original music; and Matthew Melchiorre, production stage manager.
Corporate sponsorship for "Around the World" is provided by SPECS. Board of trustees sponsors are Kim and Niv Harizman.
Following "Around the World in 80 Days," the season's second play will be "Children," a timeless and touching family drama by A.R. Gurney, the playwright who penned "The Dining Room," "Sylvia" and "Love Letters." It will run May 26 through June 13. When their mysterious brother, Pokey, returns to the family's beachside vacation home, all the family plans crumble as love affairs and family secrets explode. Westport favorite John Tillinger will direct.
Third in the series will now be the modern musical, "tick, tick...BOOM!," with book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, who created the smash hit "Rent." It is scheduled June 23 through July 18. The engaging musical captures the struggles of a starving artist and his determination to live out his dream. A recent off-Broadway production won the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding musical. The show contains mature language and themes.
In the season's fourth slot will be the classic comedy, "How the Other Half Loves," playing July 28 through August 15, written by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by John Tillinger, the playwright and director who recently brought to the Playhouse the hit comedies "Time of My Life" and "Relatively Speaking". A late night affair turns into a dinner party to remember where comedy is the main course.
A fifth and sixth play, not yet announced, will be finalized soon. One of the final two shows will be directed by Mark Lamos. Their production dates are, respectively, August 25 through September 12 and September 29 through October 17.
The 2009 performance schedule is Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Special series feature Previews, Opening Nights, Thursday TalkBack, Sunday Symposium, Backstage Pass and Open Captioning.
Series ticketing options include the new Season Pass, Pick-A-Plan, FlexTix and the traditional subscription package. Single tickets range from $30 to $55; opening night tickets, including post-performance reception, are $65. Students and educators are eligible for 50% discounts. Groups of 10 or more save up to 30%. For group sales information call (203) 227-5137, x120.
Westport Country Playhouse serves as a treasured home for the performing arts for audiences and artists alike, and is a true cultural landmark for Connecticut. Under the artistic direction of Mark Lamos and management direction of Michael Ross, the Playhouse is creating extraordinary, quality productions of new and classic plays. In addition to its series of theatrical productions, the Playhouse hosts play readings, family festivities, music, film and dance, all serving to engage the community and centralize the theater's place in the Fairfield County entertainment scene. Each year the legendary Playhouse welcomes more than 85,000 audience members. The Playhouse's rich history dates back to 1931, when New York theatre producers Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall created a Broadway-quality stage within an 1830s cow barn. Now celebrating its 79th season, Westport Country Playhouse has produced more than 700 plays, 36 of which later transferred to Broadway. Following a multi-million dollar renovation completed in 2005, the Playhouse enhanced its rich history as a summer venue into a year-round, state-of-the-art producing theater, which has preserved its original charm and character. The Playhouse is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization.
For more information or ticket purchases, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets may be purchased online at www.westportplayhouse.org.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson