Jules Verne’s story, Around the World in 80 Days, has been dismissed as an adventure tale aimed at boys, but it has proven to hold appeal for audiences of all ages. That appeal continues as Lamb’s Players Theatre mounts the West Coast premiere of Laura Eason’s adaptation of the novel.
While not a musical (though, Des McAnuff tried one at La Jolla Playhouse back in 1988), the characterizations leap off the stage under Robert Smyth’s taut and fast-paced direction. There’s Phineas Fogg (Lance Arthur Smith), a bachelor whose life is so regimented that his whist buddies at the Reform Club jump at the chance to bet him that he can’t circumnavigate the globe in the time allotted. There’s Passepartout (a buoyant Bryan Barbarin in a role tailor-made for his talents), Fogg’s new manservant and former circus performer. There’s Kamana Aouda (Kaja Amado Dunn), a widow who Fogg rescues from being thrown on the funeral pyre of her dead husband. And there’s Inspector Fix (Jon Lorenz), who’s after a bank bandit who fits Fogg’s description. An ensemble consisting of Jesse Abeel, John Rosen, Brian Rickel, and Caitie Grady provide equal parts energy to the secondary roles.
Eastward head Fogg and Passepartout, traveling with only a carpet bag and a copy of Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Steam Transit and General Guide, a world-wide rail and steamship timetable. Their journey takes them from London to Suez, Egypt, across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to Bombay and Calcutta, India, then onward by ship to Hong Kong, Yokahama, Japan, and eventually landing in San Francisco. Then, it’s a rail trip across the U. S. to New York City, a steamer trip across the Atlantic to Liverpool, and the last leg is a train ride back to London.
Of course, not everything goes exactly as planned, leaving Fogg and Passepartout to improvise creatively at times. The improvisations include thinking about and discarding the idea of traveling by hot air balloon (despite what you might recall from the wide-screen, Technicolor, film version there is no travel by balloon in the novel).
Mr. Smyth’s production wisely requires the audience to imagine much of the ever-changing scene-scape (though, set designer Michael McKeon has come up with some swell ways of portraying some of the more unusual methods of transport). Nathan Pierson’s lighting design directs attention to the areas of the stage where scenes are being played, even though stage-set up activities may be occurring in other areas of the stage. Jeanne Barnes Reith does her usual fine job of creative costumes that look great on the actors. Deborah Gilmour Smyth worked with composer Kevin O’Donnell to create effective scene change music. And whoever staged the circus scenes that feature Passepartout returning to his former profession (April Henry, who is credited as choreographer?) did a bang-up job.
About the only sour note in a raft of solid acting is Mr. Lorenz’s performance as Inspector Fix. The idea of a detective following Fogg and company around the world on a hunch is preposterous to begin with, but Mr. Lorenz seems to have been asked to play the role like the villain in an old-time melodrama. While everyone in this company flirts with going over the top from time to time, Mr. Lorenz does so with regularity and the result is more annoying than funny.
Even so, the idea of going to one place and seeing versions of sights that one might encounter on a round-the-world trip is perhaps as fun as visiting similar sights on the Las Vegas Strip. And, it’s a heck of a lot less expensive. [php snippet=1]
Performances are Tue, Wed, Thu at 7:30 / Fri at 8 / Sat at 4 & 8 / Sun at 2 Ticket range from $26 to $60 depending on the seating section and the day of the week. Youth (ages 5 – 17) and Active Military (ID) are half price.
The show is recommended for ages 8 and up.
Lamb’s Box Office 691.437.6000 (Tue – Sat, 1 to 7) or online at lambsplayers.org