Kansas City Rep Going 'Around the World in 80 Days'

By virtually all accounts, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s replacement of its traditional holiday offering, A Christmas Carol, with the brassy, Broadway-style musical premiere of A Christmas Story has been a huge success. Well, get ready for another juggernaut of a show, as the Rep’s next production, a musical adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days, hits the Rep on Jan. 22.

Originally created by Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, known for its bold, physical productions, the show comes to Kansas City from a recent engagement in Baltimore. Eric Rosen, the Rep’s artistic director, spoke recently about Around the World in 80 Days by phone from San Diego, where he was in talks to bring yet another out-of-town production to Kansas City.

“I was … kind of looking for something that would balance the kind of edgier work that we’re doing against some work that is appropriate for wide audiences [and> family audiences,” Rosen said of the decision to bring Around the World in 80 Days to Kansas City. “That’s a rare show to find.”

To be sure, the balance of Rosen’s theatrical choices for the Rep has made itself clear in the year and a half he’s been at the theater, from the hip-hop musical Clay to the Sondheim musical Into the Woods, to a fresh reading of the Tennessee Williams masterpiece The Glass Menagerie (which The Wall Street Journal has just named one of the top two shows of 2009 in the country). And this variety that Rosen has brought to the Rep seems to be reaping big rewards.

“Our audience is really growing fast,” he says. “It’s been a long time since the Rep has extended shows, and we’ve extended four productions in the last year, and no one can remember when that’s ever happened before.”

Chicago-based actor Lance Baker, who will step into the lead role in 80 Days as Phileas Fogg in Kansas City, gave his take on the production in a phone interview from Baltimore, where he was rehearsing the role.

This “has to be a play that most people would consider unadaptable — you are essentially traversing 11 different locations and environments. How do you do this with one stage and eight actors? Well, you give Lookingglass a call and they say ‘Hmm, sounds impossible, we’ll do it.’ ”

Baker’s association with Lookingglass Theatre goes back to his post-college years. “One of my first shows out of college was a production of Lookingglass’ Up Against It, when [the theater"> was just beginning to gain some national attention.”

He seems to relish the role in 80 Days. “It’s been a delight for everyone concerned … and Lookingglass is a very collaborative theater, so everyone here is very involved.”

Yet just a hint of apprehension creeps into his voice when he speaks of the production’s inherent difficulties. “There is a great amount of swinging on boats and riding elephants. … Thankfully, with the lead, there’s not a lot of costume changes.”

As far as how 80 Days fits into Eric Rosen’s plans for the Rep, he says, “Our goal is not financial reward. … I want people to go have a great time, deepen their appreciation for our work, and in this play hopefully bring their family.”

And there’s another important group that Rosen has been courting for the Rep — the LGBT community. “It’s been really exciting for me to see the number of gays and lesbians who are coming. We’ve got this really great core of LGBT audiences that we really didn’t have before.”

So, for those of you adventurous enough to go Around the World in 80 Days, the show runs from Jan. 22 through Feb. 14. For tickets, call 816-235-2700 or visit kcrep.org. "

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