Classic novels have inspired some truly memorable theatrical productions over the years — “Les Misérables,” “Moby Dick” and “The Phantom of the Opera” to name a few.
“Around the World in 80 Days,” the Jules Verne story that inspired an Oscar-winning movie in 1956, is currently playing as an adventurous farcical comedy at Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University.
Director Susan K. Berkompas has pulled out all the creative and comedic stops for this wildly ambitious production, adapted for the stage by Mark Brown, which traces the English dandy Phileas Fogg and his trusty servant on the title quest to win a wager placed at a London gentleman’s club.
Given the limited dimensions of Vanguard’s Lyceum Theater, it may appear that Berkompas and company might be biting off a bit more than they can chew. Yet somehow they make it work with four principal performers and a quartet of ensemble players taking on multiple assignments.
They also make it fun. The emphasis is clearly on comedy as Fogg and friends tackle their circumnavigation challenge while a British detective pursues them, believing Fogg may be a bank robber who must be arrested on English soil.
Taking on the key role of Phileas Fogg is Zach Guevin, who adopts a Sherlock Holmesian attitude of perpetual optimism and cool-headedness as pandemonium reigns all around him. His is an authoritative, highly literate interpretation.
Stealing the show repeatedly, however, is Ethan Boyle as Fogg’s inventive French servant Passepartout. Beyond his comic acumen, Boyle is an accomplished gymnast who needs little urging to demonstrate his tumbling and back-flipping skills.
Alyssa Kammerer is splendid as the damsel in distress whom Fogg rescues from fiery death in India and who continues on the journey with him. Her presence appears incidental until the show’s climactic scene.
Caustic conflict is created by the detective frustrated that no one gets his job title right. Robert Ball functions handily in this role, periodically thwarting the globe-girdling mission.
These players are beautifully backed by Isaiah Nuno, Marissa Del Gatto, Levi Foster and Bethany Huang, who alternately narrate the story and play various roles in it.
They also provide various sound effects such as an accordion or a pipe whistle. Careful ears also may catch snatches of movie melodies like “Titanic” or “Chariots of Fire.”
Scenic designer Paul Eggington and costumer Lia M. Hansen have created some marvelous atmospheric adornments, including a hilarious typhoon effect which tosses the characters’ vessel around like they were on a trampoline.
“Around the World in 80 Days” is fast, funny and furious, a vastly entertaining ensemble effort at Vanguard University.
IF YOU GO
What: “Around the World in 80 Days”
Where: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Fridays at 7:30 p.,m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30, Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 28
Cost: $15 - $13
Information: (714) 668-6145; vanguardtickets.com