An auspicious opener for International City Theatre's 28th season, “Around the World in 80 Days,” Mark Brown's adroit adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 classic, is cleverness personified.
The play concerns the peregrinations of Phileas Fogg (Jud V. Williford), a staunch Englishman who bets that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.
Accompanied by his French servant, Passepartout (Michael Uribes), Fogg sets out to win his wager – or face financial ruin – all the while pursued by a tenacious British detective who has mistaken him for a criminal.
Unlike the 1956 film, there's nary a balloon in sight. As in Verne's novel, the journey is made by steamer and train – with the occasional elephant thrown in for good measure.
The production, which requires a cast of five to play dozens of roles in constantly shifting locales, could daunt less able practitioners. Fortunately, director Allison Bibicoff and her playful performers attack their material with just the right blend of silliness and rigor, giving an impromptu flair to this precisely regimented staging – no mean feat.
The technical requirements of the show are no less demanding. Donna Ruzika's lighting and Dave Mickey's sound are essential to the fun, as are Kim DeShazo's costumes, which ingeniously accommodate the many quick changes. Staci Walters' set, which features an upstage map straight out of a 1930s movie travelogue, contains hidden doors, set pieces and other imaginative surprises.
Mark Gagliardi, Brian Stanton and Uribes are purely blissful in an array of roles, while gifted Melinda Porto can switch on a dime from a prim East Indian beauty to a campily comical sailor.
Amusingly stoical, Williford is a deceptively stoical straight man, the fixed point around which the high jinks revolve. An accomplished entertainment, this “World” sets out to amuse and reaches its destination with time to spare.
“Around the World in 80 Days,” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 17. $38 and $45. (562) 436-4610. www.InternationalCityTheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
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