by David Dixon
San Diegans, who want to travel to different continents without leaving the county, will now be able to at Grossmont College’s Stagehouse Theatre. Members of the 3rd Annual Summer Conservatory Program are presenting an adaptation of “Around the World in 80 Days” called “80 Days! A New Musical.”
The adventure story is directed by Theatre Arts instructor and local artist, Brian Rickel. He gives a lot of credit for the program’s inception to Theatre Arts Department Chair, Beth Duggan.
“This is the brain child of Duggan and some others in order to give students an opportunity to perform,” he said. “It was her dream to have a program where students could work with professional artists. Our faculty all work professionally in the city.”
Another goal is to have high school performers involved in each staging. “We want to continue to connect with the high school community, since that’s part of our outreach,” he said. “A third of our cast this summer are from high schools in the area.”
Delia Mejia, a sophomore at Grossmont, gets to portray the Indian princess and Phileas Fogg’s love interest, Aouda. Mejia has been involved with the conservatory for two years and is enthusiastic that high schoolers can be a part of each show. “I think it’s so important that high schoolers can learn what it’s like to take part in a college production,” she said. “I love being able to let them experience something beautiful like this.”
A unique aspect of “80 Days” is gender bending and cross-cultural casting. Safiya Quinley, a former Grossmont student currently studying at USC, plays a female version of Jules Verne’s popular character, Passepartout. “I actually transferred to another school two years ago,” she said. “However, I’m back for the summer to be a part in the conservatory. It’s been really fun to be back, because the Grossmont theater community is really welcoming.”
Rickel wants the diverse ensemble to seem natural. “I love that the script comments on equality, without saying anything about race,” he said. “It’s important that anyone can play in these stories.”
Helping with the visuals of Fogg’s journey is Grossmont sophomore Carissa Ohm, who works in the theatre’s costume shop. She is aiding costume designer, Corey Johnston. Ohm finds that clothing can really impact a performance for the better. “Watching actors wearing different clothes, even using shoes in rehearsals, can completely change how they act and move,” she said. “Suddenly, they step into the character and channel the role.”
Audience members are going to recognize many of the musical numbers used in the plot. None of the cast/crew members want to spoil which well-known songs will be used, but Rickel was able to mention types of genres incorporated in Jeannette Thomas’ book. “Popular songs are featured,” Rickel said. “We cover everything from dance pop to a little bit of country.”
An important aspect that Rickel wants audiences to know is that Fogg’s quest is geared towards all ages. “This is a family-friendly play that’s not just for kids,” he said. “We want to create an experience that celebrates traveling with others. I encourage people to take a trip after the evening and see different parts of the world.”
Grossmont College’s melodious odyssey gives adults and children an opportunity to see a new theatrical event while also showcasing young rising talent. No need to bring a passport to the world premiere event. Several of the performances are already sold out, so buy tickets as soon as possible.
—Dave Dixon is a freelance writer with a bent toward theater and film. Reach him at email@example.com.