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THEATER REVIEW: Lamb's Players go “Around The World In 80 Days”

Jules Verne’s stories are all about imagination, so it seems fitting that Lamb’s Players production of Laura Eason’s adaption of “Around The World In 80 Days” sports the most ingenious staging ever from a company that routinely offers clever design.

You know the story: Phileas Fogg plays whist with his friends the same way he lives his life – by the clock. One day in 1872, he asserts that progress has been such that one could circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

His buddies at the London club are sure he’s crazy and bet 20,000 pounds (around $2 million in today’s money) that he can’t do it. Fogg, an extremely precise man, takes that bet.

Fogg has just fired one valet (for not serving his tea at the proper temperature) and hired another – Passepartout (Bryan Barbarin), an excitable Frenchman and a fine foil for his master’s unflappable demeanor. And now they’re off – with the indispensable Bradshaw volume of world travel timetables.

Roads end, Fogg has to buy his way out of an arrest, Passepartout is easily sidetracked. But by train, boat and even elephant, the intrepid travelers continue, despite inconveniences like pursuit by Scotland Yard Inspector Fix (Jon Lorenz) – convinced that Fogg stole a considerable sum from a London bank – and lovely coincidences like adding Kamana Aouda (Kaja Amado Dunn) to the group after saving her from ritual death on her late husband’s funeral pyre.

Laura Eason’s adaptation of this expansive, globetrotting Verne classic plays through Nov. 18 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado, directed by Robert Smyth.

This version premiered at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago in 2008, with clever staging by Jacqueline and Richard Penrod) that served as inspiration for Lamb’s set designer Michael McKeon.

The basic set is dual-level: up a long ladder is Fogg’s library which gives way to a giant world map; downstairs, a versatile space that serves as train station and multiple other locales. A center stage trapdoor brings up several means of locomotion, including that elephant and an amazing ice-going sledge.

There probably isn’t a person over 20 who doesn’t know how this story ends, but in this case it’s the journey that counts, and thanks to sprightly direction, a terrific cast and a crack design team, “Around The World In 80 Days” is a winner on all counts.

The over-regimented Fogg character could be just a robotic bore, but Smith (and the script) embue him with enough humanity to make him more than just an oddball on a quest.

Barbarin’s Passepartout is always amusing and sometimes amazing, when he gets to flex his “former circus performer” muscles.

Dunn is lovely and believable as Kamana, and has the best Indian accent I’ve heard in ages.

Lorenz is funny as the moustache-twirling Inspector Fix, and a fine supporting cast (Jesse Abeel, Brian Rickel, John Rosen and Caitie Grady) plays numerous other characters with great skill.

Kudos to Jeanne Reith for the excellent costumes, to Kevin O’Donnell for the fine original music and to April Henry for the jaunty choreography.

Lamb’s Players has another winner here. Don’t miss it.

The details

“Around The World In 80 Days” plays through Nov. 18 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-437-6000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.