Friday, April 11, 2014

theatre review, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, Arizona Theatre Company, April 6

Yolanda London, Bob Sorenson,
Mark Anders, Kyle Sorrell
and Jon Gentry
To read my complete Talkin' Broadway review (highlights below) of Around the World in 80 Days at the Arizona Theatre Company through this Sunday, just click on this link.

"Based on Jules Verne's classic novel, Mark Brown's theatrical adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is a combination of suspense, adventure, comedy and romance. Using only five actors to portray over thirty characters, Brown has crafted a play with many comical moments set amongst the adventure that add laughs from the well-written humorous dialogue as well as the fun in seeing how quickly the actors become the many characters they play. Having been produced around the world since its premiere in 1991 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the play is receiving a serviceable production from the Arizona Theatre Company with a more than capable cast and fairly impressive creative elements.

Verne's novel, while extremely elaborate, actually has a fairly simple plot. In 1872 London and with the expansion of rail lines across Asia, wealthy Phileas Fogg states that it is now possible to travel around the world in just eighty days. He wagers his life savings of £20,000 when he accepts a bet from members of the upper crust Reform Club who don't believe he can succeed in his globe-trotting expedition in such a short time. However, the wager puts his fortune and his life at risk when a police detective, who thinks Fogg is a robber on the run, follows him on his journey, putting as many obstacles in Fogg's way as he can until he has the means to arrest him, which turns the adventure into a completely different one than the determined and relentless Fogg had originally imagined.

Saar's direction is effective, though he can't seem to do much with the unfortunate pacing lags in Brown's act one script. Still, he manages to draw effective characters from all of his actors and provides a few comical moments, some stirring action sequences, and a large amount of charm in act two. Creative elements are nicely done with Carey Wong's two-tiered set including a revolving staircase and a large world map that appears above several times throughout the show. While creative, the set is actually vastly underused, with only one main scene playing out on the upper playing area. The design also includes a large set piece upstage center that, while it moves back and forth a few times, is also really only used for one scene and its presence throughout the show blocks a large part of the images projected on the back scrim. Fortunately Wong also provides a moving set piece that is extremely effective in portraying the typhoon sequence and the train track traveling sailing device. David Lee Cuthbert's lighting design is mostly clean and bright, with many of the scenes taking place during the day, though the night time rescue of Aouda is nicely lit in moody and exotic hues. He also provides a nice lighting effect to theatrically resemble a moving train. The projections, by Gregory W. Towle, are effective in how they display the various exotic locations of the journey and resemble sepia toned postcards along with a superb giant clock projection that fills the entire back. Karen Ledger's costumes are abundant, elaborate and colorful, and considerably help the actors to quickly assume the many characters they play. Aouda's lush and colorful dresses are especially well done.

So while Brown's adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is a little lacking on the "adventure" aspect due to the small cast and the inability to clearly portray the many action packed sequences from Verne's novel, there is a large amount of charm and several effective and touching moments toward the end. The Arizona Theatre Company production is good, but not great, with a talented cast, serviceable direction and, with the exception of an elaborate set design that is somewhat underused, nicely done creative elements. If audiences can make it through the somewhat plodding first act they will be treated to a second act that is vastly superior and an ending that is touching and charming, delivered by a cast that is having a grand time in bringing Verne's classic story to stage.

Around the World in 80 Days at Arizona Theatre Company runs through April 13th at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 256 – 6995.

Photo: Tim Fuller / Arizona Theatre Company

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