Much like English gentleman Phileas Fogg, the star in their latest production, the cast of Walnut Street Theatre’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” is on a bit of a whirlwind adventure.
They may not be attempting to circumvent the globe in 80 days, but the members of the Philadelphia-based theater company are hitting 13 cities and 7 states in just under a month. On Sunday afternoon, they swing through Frederick with a stop at the Weinberg.
“You get to travel and see different parts of the country and get paid for it,” said “Around the World” director and actor, Bill Van Horn. “You also realize how friendly people are around the country.”
Located at the corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia, the Walnut Street Theatre celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2009 and is the oldest American theater. In addition to its mainstage and children’s theater productions, the Walnut Street Theatre also takes one of its plays on tour every year.
“We feel that Walnut has a great artistic level and Philadelphia theater in general is of rich quality,” Van Horn said. “We really believe in Philadelphia.”
The theater company usually travels as far south as North Carolina and has gone as far west as Indiana. But next year, Walnut has plans to take its production of “Driving Ms. Daisy” to Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and California.
Van Horn began working with Walnut Street Theatre about 14 years ago while he was living in New York.
“I kept getting hired once or twice a year [at Walnut] and kept saying, ‘I like Philly a lot, I should move here,’” Van Horn said. And finally, seven years ago, he did.
Since then, Van Horn has directed nine plays at Walnut and worked on several others as an actor and writer. He even wrote the theater’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”
According to Van Horn, Walnut’s touring production typically features a small cast in order to make travel easier. The “Around the World” cast is composed of just five actors, including Van Horn.
Based on the classical adventure novel by French writer Jules Verne, the Walnut Street version of “Around the World in 80 Days” is an adaptation written by Mark Brown about 10 years ago. It’s the story of Phileas Fogg, who, prompted by an article in the Daily Telegraph and a hefty wager with friends, sets out to travel around the world in 80 days.
The five Walnut Street actors take on all 39 of the play’s roles, with most actors playing between 10 and 15 different parts.
“Since I’m the oldest guy in the cast, I play all the geezers,” laughed Van Horn.
While playing multiple characters doesn’t seem to faze him, Van Horn admits one of the challenges with a touring production is making adjustments from night to night based on the venue. Like when the cast went from an 84-seat theater in New Jersey to a 1,400-seat auditorium in Pennsylvania the very next night.
“You make little adjustments,” Van Horn said. “There is always one surprise or another and it keeps us on our toes ...It makes you rediscover the play every night.”
And Van Horn said audiences are also getting to know the beloved story all over again.
“I think with a lot of really well-known novels, people have misconceptions about it,” Van Horn said. “People think they know it, and they see our play, they learn new things.”
For example, contrary to popular belief, there is actually no hot air balloon in Jules’ original story. Although Van Horn said the story incorporates nearly every other form of transportation including trains, speed ships and elephants.
Despite their hectic touring schedule, Van Horn said the group does find some time to take in the sites as well as the bites.
“It’s fantastic to find great mom and pop places to eat,” Van Horn said. “Being actors, eating is very important.”