Episode Reviewed: Passages: Darien's Rise (646-654)
Writer: Paul McCusker

Director: Paul McCusker
Sound Designers: Jonathan Crowe, Christopher Diehl, GAP Digital
Theme: Faith in God's calling
Original Airdate: 2009: 9/19, 9/26, 10/03, 10/10, 10/17, 10/24, 10/31, 11/07, 11/14

Rating (out of 5):


Episode Summary

An old manuscript titled "The Chronicles of the Chosen" has Whit and Jack Allen curious! In it they discover the story of two kids named Kyle and Anna who are caught up in a big adventure... in an alternate world?


The Review
It's a book series that was waiting to be dramatized. Yes, the Passages series has always been dear to my heart since it was released in 1999. So you can probably imagine my excitement to hear an audio adaptation of the most popular Adventures in Odyssey book series to date. Oh, to hear the stories I had read over and over would now make it to a radio drama! This produced the same emotions I had experienced right around the time that Focus on the Family Radio Theatre released its first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia audio dramas: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


Strangely enough, as I listened to Darien's Rise, I found myself unable to connect with the personalities of Kyle (voiced by Shane Baumel) and Anna (Rachel Fox). Supposedly, Kyle and Anna are brother and sister, yet they lacked a certain chemistry that brothers and sisters often have. As a comparison, I bring to your memory the relationship between Jimmy and Donna Barclay. There is a "realness" to their relationship. They sounded like they were close family members... siblings living under the same roof. However, I don't know if it was the acting or what-have-you, but both Kyle and Anna lacked that sibling connection that has been often displayed throughout Adventures in Odyssey. Personally, I don't think that casting Shane Baumel and Rachel Fox as lead roles may have been the best choice. Why? Well allow me to elaborate.


If you compare the Odyssey that once was to the Odyssey that is today, you'll notice one main difference. The voices. The voices of characters make all the difference in a radio drama, and it seems to me that Adventures in Odyssey has been going in the same direction in which modern day cartoons have been trekking. Most modern cartoons feature somewhat unrealistic, smart-mouthed, get-to-the-punch line, snobbish kids and teenagers. Now, in the case of Kyle and Anna, they are certainly not portrayed as snobs or smart-mouthed (whew!). They do, however, feature that vocal tone that reminds one (or at least me in this case) of Saturday morning cartoons. Anna, in particular, sounded like several more recent characters that have shown up in the series. By choosing voices that have a more cartoon quality to them, it causes them to blend in with the show so much that there is nothing very memorable about them. I don't know if I'm making my thoughts very clear, but allow me to explain further.


Take a moment and imagine the voice of Jimmy Barclay. Pause. Now imagine that of Lawrence Hodges. Pause again. You will notice that there is an obvious tonal difference between them. Now imagine the voice of Robyn Jacobs and compare it with Courtney Vincent's. A major difference exists between the pitch and quality of each voice. But we're not done yet. Now hear Anna's voice in your head and then listen to Michaela Bourland (Pink Is Not My Color). There isn't really a major difference between the two. Sure, they sound different, but not different enough. I think this may be one of the main reasons why many fans look back at the good old days of Odyssey and see a difference between the old and new characters. It seems as if quite a few of the more recent kid voices sound too similar, so there's nothing all that special to remember about their characters. Fans want voices that are more realistic.


Alas, a certain differentiation is missing from the voices of characters in the newer shows. For me, I'm looking for characters you can relate to, such as the sibling chemistry between Jimmy and Donna... Robyn and Melanie Jacobs... even Aubrey and Bethany Shepard. If a book can do a good job portraying a true-to-life relationship among siblings (which Darien's Rise did), then shouldn't it be natural for the audio dramatization to do the same thing?


Maybe it's not such a problem of the voices sounding so similar, but perhaps it's where the creators of AIO are turning to when casting for characters? If you think about it, maybe we're trying to get the big-name actors instead of those who may meet the needs of a part better. In Odyssey's early days, the needs of the program were met in the most ironic of ways. For example, Robyn and Melanie Jacobs were voiced by Sage and Erin Bolte, former executive producer Chuck Bolte's daughters. They weren't big-name actresses. They didn't have acting careers or glamorous photos of themselves circulating around. They weren't going to recording sessions for Odyssey and later working on the 27th installment of Fern Gully Goes Green. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. They were everyday kids who were able to deliver the heart of their characters. They didn't want photo shoots and fame. They met the needs of the program without having a ton of acting credentials to back themselves up. I'm sure there are plenty of audition tapes out there of everyday people like you and me with the right voice, just waiting to be a blessing to the show.


Likewise, Azure Janosky (Donna Barclay), David Griffin (Jimmy Barclay), Genni Mullen Long (Lucy Cunningham Schultz-Davis), Joseph Cammaroto (Oscar Peterson), Gabe Encarnacion (Lawrence Hodges), and others played their characters extremely well -- and none of them were famous or posing for cameras before they showed up in Odyssey. They met the needs of the show and made the show great based on their performances. Just turn on an episode of Disney's Recess and you won't hear their voices blasting from your TV. Or digest an episode of one of the 90's cartoons and try to recognize their voices. It won't happen, for the most part.


Let's just scrap the idea of having big-name actors with credentials to make people turn and notice Adventures in Odyssey. In the past, the very concept of what Adventures in Odyssey is drew in listeners. We do a pretty good job of noticing the show based on the quality of entertainment. Based on the heart of the characters. Based on the message sent out.


Is it safe for me to say that perhaps AIO is picking from the wrong pot here to build the reputation of the Adventures in Odyssey brand? Most of the current kid actors have been on other forms of entertainment before Odyssey. Some of the kids on Odyssey are played by adults and clearly sound as if an adult is trying to sound like a kid. Maybe it's time to go back to filling roles with everyday kids who may not necessarily be well-known? Odyssey's popularity has always been due to the fans accepting the realistic-ness of it all... being able to laugh, cry, and relate with the characters. The reputation and popularity of AIO isn't on the line here. Fans accept the program based on their connection and ability to relate with the series.


Because of all this, I feel that the characters of Kyle and Anna are somewhat detached from the rest of the drama. Yes, they have their lines to deliver, but you have to pay attention a little harder when listening to them converse amongst themselves and other characters. Perhaps I'm getting the idea that the actors were a little rushed in the studio and weren't able to pull off a more convincing performance? But if that is the case, why don't I have a problem with the performances of all the other actors who were involved with this drama? Why is it just Kyle and Anna I am unsettled about? Does anyone else out there feel this way, or is it just me? Nod if you agree.


Acting and voices aside, I really don't have much to say about the other elements of Darien's Rise. Overall, the dramatization is very true to the story, and it's almost completely word-for-word with the book. John Campbell's musical score, coupled with the sound design, creates a captivating experience for listeners. I understand this is the first official appearance of actor Andre Stojka as the voice of John Avery Whittaker. At first, Andre comes across as a little stiff as a replacement for Whit. I've heard many people say he's a great replacement right off the bat, while others dislike the new voice. Others think they hear a lot of Hal Smith in the voice with Paul Herlinger sprinkled in. I'm more inclined to side with that opinion. To me, I hear a mix of both Hal and Paul, and I also hear the new personality of Andre sprinkling forth. As time progresses, I imagine he will settle into his role as Whit and find exactly the right portrayal he is looking for. With Darien's Rise, Whit is narrating the story for the majority of the time, so it's difficult to hear Whit's personality quite yet. I'll need to hear him in his conversations with Connie and Eugene in the days ahead before I am fully accustomed to the new role.


With five audio adaptations to go, I anticipate what will become of this series. Hopefully popularity will be high and not decline as we go along. After all, that's the only way things get done if money is around to back it. So sit back, turn up your volume, and immerse yourself in the world of Marus. It's a journey worth taking.



In conclusion, Passages: Darien's Rise is a must-have for any Adventures in Odyssey fan. The drama was originally broadcast over a 9-week period and doesn't have the same effect that it would when listening all at once. Clearly, bringing elements of fantasy into a real-life situation has a way of captivating audiences. I give this dramatization 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.



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