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Montezuma-Cortez theater guides ‘Journey Through the Impossible’

Shawn McAllister plays the lead role of George, who is a highly ambitious individual in the Montezuma-Cortez High School producton of Jules Verne's "Journey Through the Impossible." (Courtesy photo)
High school production takes rarely seen Jules Verne play to new heights

From obscurity into the limelight, Montezuma-Cortez High School theater is bringing out a lost masterpiece of 19th-century literature and taking it to the stage in a fall performance of “Journey Through the Impossible.”

Written by literary giant Jules Verne – better known for his science-fiction canon of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” – the play integrates a number of the primary characters from his prior works.

The play might have never seen the light of day, were it not for a stroke of fortune.

Buried deep in literary archives for decades, the play saw fewer than 100 performances in French, Verne’s native tongue. Rarer still, the manuscript’s relatively recent translation to English in 2003 meant that the production has never been performed for the anglophile ear.

That is, until now.

M-CHS drama teacher and the play’s director, Nicholaus Sandner, came across the manuscript and saw the opportunity to breathe life into a distinctive piece of literary history.

“It’s a unique play,” said Sandner, “and we’re thrilled that we’re the first the perform it in English. I’d always been interested in doing genres that are underrepresented – and sci-fi definitely fits that bill.”

“We’ve got about 50 people involved in the production,” adds Sandner, “and so many others have been involved in the arrangement of the show, including advocates from the North American Jules Verne Society.”

The original choreography of the play involved a ballet at the conclusion of each act, so to honor Verne’s intention, the performers conclude each act with a dancing ensemble.

“The performers were unsure what to expect,” said Sandner of a performance that didn’t have precedent for the students to reference, “but the kids have been really engaged – even though there’s a lot of text to memorize, they’ve been up to the challenge.”

M-CHS has added their own flavor to the performance, taking creative liberties in how various characters would speak and move through the numerous spectacular sets.

Shawn McAllister plays the lead role of George, who is a highly ambitious individual looking to achieve the impossible. After an encounter with villainous Doctor Ox, played by Xander Bennetts, George navigates through a series of different travails, meeting some of Verne’s most iconic characters along the way, including Captain Nemo (“Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”) and Professor Lidenbrock (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”).

Lady Volsius, played by Lily Sandner, serves as a conscience for George through his journey, while romantic interest Eva, played by Amber Hebberd, tags along for the adventure as George wrestles between decisions of good and evil.

Tartelet (Keira Meeks) and Valdemar (Simeon Erlandson) offer a comedic foil for the journey, while a full cast and elaborate backdrops bring the science-fiction production to life.

“We’re excited to be bringing this to the community,” added Sandner. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work and hope that we’re doing the play the justice that it deserves.”

After a strong showing in their first three performances in their opening weekend, M-CHS drama will close the production with three additional showings on Friday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m., as well as on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance at mchsdrama.org.

Meanwhile, theater fans can mark their calendars for the spring production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a comedic musical, which will run over the weekends of March 10-11 and 17-18.