Inevitably, the very title of Around the World in 80 Days summons up memories in people of a certain age of Mike Todd’s spectacular, multiple Academy Award winning 1956 opus, which starred David Niven as the wealthy, buttoned-up eccentric Phileas Fogg, Esq., who makes a wager with his dissolute, men’s-club whist partners that he, taking advantage of modern ships and railroads, can travel around the globe in eighty days. Millennials may have seen the 2004 remake, which starred Steve Coogan as Fogg and Jackie Chan as Fogg’s valet, Passepartout. In both films, extraordinary liberties were taken with Jules Verne’s original story.
The great good news is that the stage version of Around the World in 80 Days, written by Mark Brown, banishes all thought of those over-blown cinematic efforts. This production, now running at The Matrix Theatre, boasts a tight ensemble of five superb comic actors who together play thirty-nine distinct characters of varied ethnicities and genders appropriate to the corners of the world traveled by the intrepid Fogg (excellent, droll Thaddeus Shafer). The greatly gifted physical comedian, Michael Uribes, plays one of the whist players before reappearing as the eccentric’s valet, Passepartout—a Sancho to Fogg’s Quixote. Sujana Chand, Gabriel Oliva and Brian Stanton take on the remaining thirty-seven characters with energy and sure-handed aplomb. Ms. Chand shines as the Indian princess Aouda, doomed to die on the funeral pyre of her late husband, but rescued by Passepartout. With lightening fast quick changes and a hilarious bag of eccentric dialects, the protean actors Oliva and Stanton portray the remaining characters with boundless wit and energy as the plot traverses the globe eastward. True to the Verne original, there is no air travel by hot air balloon as in the 1956 film or a steampunk airplane in the 2004 version. Trains, boats and elephants are the rule save for a little fantastic whimsy with a leaping locomotive and a wind driven sledge.
Smartly directed by Allison Bibicoff, the pace of the show is brisk and the action non-stop. Designed by Chris Schmidt, the set boasts a huge map of the world as the upstage wall with doors good for slamming, and flush, minimal openings that allow set pieces to run in and out with ease. Platforms are good for everything from train cars to ships to the elephant quickly constructed with fabric and chairs, all of which is enhanced by the lighting design of R. Christopher Stokes. Costumes by Kimberly DeShazo reflect the period while easing the demand for quick changes. The sound design by Dave Mickey is organic to the production.
You want to have a good time? You want to laugh until you cry? Go see Lost Dog Productions’ Around the World in 80 Days, which runs through October 16 at The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.