Scripted by Craig Francis and Rick Miller who also directs and appears in the show, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea uses a narrator, Jules (played by Miller), named after the famous French author, who informs us that he is a graduate student in the seventh year of writing his dissertation on “Downward Spiral: Inevitable Collapse of Ocean Ecosystems.” He has an inspiration to turn back the clock to 1868 and retell his own version of the Jules Verne novel, his father’s favorite book, with his thesis adviser as Professor Claire Aronnax (Suzy Jane Hunt) and with himself as her assistant.
Because of the repeated sightings of an enormous undersea object, Aronnax is coopted to join a U.S. government expedition on the S.S. Abraham Lincoln to pursue and destroy the unknown terror. Besides Captain Farragut (Miller), they are joined by Canadian harpooner Ned Land (Marcel Jeannin). When they meet up with the leviathan, the Abraham Lincoln is sunk, and Aronnax, Ned and Jeff find themselves in the sea. The next thing they know they are on board a beautifully appointed submarine The Nautilus decorated in high Victorian style and run by Captain Nemo. He tells them they are free to roam the ship but they may not leave as he is at war with the world. Is he a genius or a madman? They engage in a series of underwater investigations at the bottom of the sea before Ned sends out a signal and the ships of the world discover the location of The Nautilus.
The live action elements of the show are performed on various platforms and screens on which are projected Deco Dawson’s designs which give the dramatization a 3-D look. In addition to 2 -D minatures, Miller manipulates tiny action figures (the scientists, etc.) and puppets (the Giant Squid, etc.) which are projected life size. Other moments take place in the audience. The audience is also asked to put their smart phones on mute to await developments. Among the magical moments are the walk on the bottom of the sea and the school of jelly fish. Aside from the marvelous visuals, the creators seem to want to have it both ways: although we are transported to a Victorian world, smart phones and computer monitors seem to work – although the younger members of the audience will most likely not notice the anachronisms.
The cast of four play all of the roles. Besides being our narrator, Miller shows up in several roles, playing it for comedy. Suzy Jane Hunt in the dual role of Dr. Claire Wells and Professor Claire Aronnax is a stalwart heroine (standing in for Pierre Aronnax in the Verne’s novel). Marcel Jeannin is a dour, sullen Ned Land, a man of few words. Captain Nemo is played by Richard Clarkin as a sinister, complex and conflicted man. Yannik Larivée is responsible for the clever set design on which the projections are used as well as the suitable costumes, both contemporary and Victorian. Shawn Kettner & Marcus Jamin created the puppet designs which are often amusing and obtain laughs.
Kidoons/WYRD Production of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea is an enjoyable and eye-filling multimedia stage version of a Jules Verne classic. Slanted more toward the adventure aspects than on the science fiction, it is perfect family entertainment for children and adults alike. It might even send the older folks back to the book.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (September 30 – October 10, 2016)
Kidoons/WYRD Productions (Montréal) in association with The 20K Collective
The New Victory Theater, 209 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-223-3010 or visit http://www.NewVictory.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission