A few minutes into the immersive 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the Children's Theatre Company, I realized that the action unfolding before me wasn't just a scene. No, it was a cut scene. Just like I've watched thousands of times in the various video games I've played in my life.
The creators of the show craft a 45-minute video game experience full of puzzles, pulse-pounding chases, and a deft retelling of Jules Verne's tale that puts us right in the heart of the action.
The piece follows the basic outline of the original novel. A mysterious ship has been sinking vessels around the globe. The adventure takes us to the source: the fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, and its enigmatic leader, Captain Nemo.
The audience (limited to about 20 for each performance) join a raid on the Nautilus to capture the submarine and its captain. Instead of taking place onstage, the adventure has the audience traveling around the bowels of CTC, ducking along corridors, and exploring rooms repurposed for the show.
At each stage, parts of the story are revealed that hint at Nemo's motivations and the personalities of the people on the Nautilus crew. The audience has work to do throughout. That could be short-circuiting the ship's living engine or making an important, final choice after a frightening confrontation with one of the monsters of the deep.
We're rewarded for our quick decision making with these "cut scenes." Hunched in a corridor, we can watch Nemo's second in command, Alquis, dress down the crew, all the time worried that our position will be compromised. Later, we find ourself in the overstuffed rooms of Professor Arronax, who offers more details about the story unfolding around us. There are even Easter eggs along the way, like a typewriter in the professor's rooms that has the first few lines of the original book, written out in French.
It's a tremendous creation, crafted by Ryan Underbakke (a creator of The 7 Shot Symphony) and Nick Ryan (of Four Humors) and a team of hard-working creators who make a series of hallways and utility rooms into a frightening, thrilling realm under the sea. They're aided by engaging performances from CTC veterans like Dean Holt, and talented local actors, led by Jane Froiland as Nemo.
As we finish the adventure and an achievement is unlocked (yes!), a final video hints at a possible sequel. If that's true, I'm ready to sign up for that mission too.
IF YOU GO:
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Through August 23
Children's Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-874-0400 or visit online.