Regional Reviews: Seattle
Cast Makes Around the World in 80 Days A Pleasurable Trip
Also see David's review of The Piano Lesson
The plot follows a fastidious gentleman named Phileas Fogg who is determined to win a £20,000 bet that he can, in 80 days, travel the world, via land and sea, traversing four continents, three oceans and attacks from two kinds of Indians. He makes this journey with a scampish valet, a bumbling detective who wrong-headedly thinks Fogg guilty of a crime, and ultimately, a captivating Indian princess. It sometimes has the feel of a musical that lost all its songs in the final cut, as when the characters are at their most heightened you expect them to burst out in song. Well, they don't, and more's the pity.
Script vagaries not withstanding, director Goldstein keeps the episodic adventures going at a brisk trot and his quintet of actors are agile, energetic and affable. As the cool as a cucumber Phileas Fogg, Jared Michael Brown creates a dashing persona, with little time for attentions to his yearning East Indian romantic interest Aouda, played with great style and warmth by Seattle newcomer Aneesh Sheth, who early on also tackles a small role as Fogg's sacked manservant so convincingly you'd swear that a man was playing the part. In the role that (briefly) thrust Mexican comic star Cantinflas to international fame in the original film, Chris Ensweiler as Passepartout is a comic whirling dervish, who brings to mind equal parts Peter Sellers' Clouseau and Robin Williams' Genie in Aladdin. Ensweiler just about steals the show, but he has fierce competition from his remaining two co-stars, Eric Polani Jensen as the dogged Detective Fix and a wide assortment of others, and Jason Collins as Sir Francis et al. These two veteran Seattle acting treasures seem to be having as much fun cavorting through their character, accent and costume changes as we are watching them. What the script lacks in the way of comic inspiration, this cast and director largely make up for.
Carey Wong's map-of-the-world dominated set is handsome as all get out, but might have used some Steampunk stylings to make it really pop. Karen Ann Ledger's costumes are high style and bursting with color and imagination, and Sean P. Begley's lighting and projection design are worthy as well. An original musical score by Roberta Carlson serves the show well, particularly in a few of the quieter moments between Phileas and Aouda.
Around the World in 80 Days runs through March 1, 2015, at Village Theatre in Issaquah, and then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center March 6-26.For information and tickets go to www.villagetheatre.org.- David Edward Hughes