Written by Eric J. Davis for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC
Graphic: Bobbi Melville
Photos: Jacqueline Chambord
3.5 out of 5 stars
ENSEMBLE FOR THE ROMANTIC CENTURY – JULES VERNE: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
BROOKLYN, NY (Monday, April 13, 2015) The Ensemble for the Romantic Century (ERC) is known for their ingenious hybrid theatrical concerts, and the performance on April 10th at BAM Fisher in Brooklyn lived up to every expectation. One part drama, one part projected film imagery, and one part 19th century chamber music, ERC’s production of Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon all added up to a thoroughly entertaining, albeit unusual, journey through time and space. This innovative approach ran parallel to Jules Verne’s own lifetime of innovative writing. Verne was primarily an armchair traveler, living a rather bourgeois existence in Amiens, France. Yet his fascination with travel, whether it was throughout the earth’s globe or a trip to the moon, made him an author of some of the most visionary adventures ever written.
This production dramatized his meeting in 1889 with the young and intrepid American journalist Nellie Bly, who set out to recreate the journey depicted in Verne’s now-classic novel Around the World in Eighty Days. She worked for the New York World newspaper at the time, and she informed the audience that while trying to come up with an idea for an article she thought, “I wish I were at the other end of the earth!” And so her adventure began. Nellie Bly mimicked the fantastic experience of Verne’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg. She also beat his record by completing her around-the-world trip in just over seventy-two days. Many said a woman couldn’t do it. But, Bly proved them wrong and became an international celebrity in doing so.
Veteran actor Jonathan Hadary (Jules Verne) was a little too one-dimensional in his characterization. And rattled off his lines in such a rapid succession as to suggest he was on the verge of forgetting them. Jayne Atkinson (Honorine Verne) has most recently been seen as Secretary of State Catherine Durant on the Netflix original series House of Cards. Her portrayal of Madame Honorine Verne displayed an endearing warmth and tenderness. One that would have been lovely to explore on a more in-depth level. And the facetious delivery of her witty remarks added some much-needed comic relief to the evening. Samantha Hill (Nellie Bly) is currently starring as Cosette in Les Miserables on Broadway. She is the quintessential “triple threat” – a melodious soprano singing voice, a skilled actor, and quite nimble on her feet as a dancer.
The musical interludes of the evening included works by Chausson, Stephen Foster, Chaminade, Gottschalk, and Offenbach. They were played with pure bravura by Eve Wolf and Max Barros, alternating on piano; Sean Lee, violin; Andrew Gonzalez, viola; Jiyoung Lee, cello; and one of the delightful surprises of the evening – Joe Jung on banjo. Offsetting the exceptional musicians was a video montage playing simultaneously on the stage’s back wall. It included scenes from A Trip to the Moon – the Georges Méliès silent film gem, footage from the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, documentary footage of 19th century events, and scenes of brilliant stars, far-flung galaxies, and the undulating waves of a seemingly endless sea.
ERC’s production was written by Co-artistic Director Eve Wolf and was based on letters, interviews, and memoirs. It was solidly directed by Donald T. Sanders. Enhancing the performance was the ethereal lighting by Beverly Emmons and the exquisite period sets and costumes by Vanessa James, including the other delightful surprise of the evening – her astronaut outfits worn by the musicians in the second act.
As Verne states in the performance’s prologue, “But the world is not enough for me…it is the universe I want to see …outer space …stars.” With the help of the Ensemble of the Romantic Century we have journeyed there and back, catching a most enchanting and powerful glimpse of Verne’s universe and his wildly rich imagination. And we are all the better for having gone along for the ride.