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Theater Review: “Around the World in 80 Days”

“Around the World in 80 Days” plays through February 4, 2018, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.
Photo credit:
Aaron Rumley

Who doesn’t love Jules Verne’s crazy story about Phileas Fogg, who one night while playing whist with his buddies at the club asserts that progress has been such that man can now go around the world by steamer and rail in 80 days? 

When scoffing ensues (this is 1872), Fogg bets 20,000 pounds (about $39,000 in today’s currency) that he can do it.

Fogg (Richard Baird) is a numbers guy: he has an ironclad schedule for meals, sleep time and the like. In fact, he has just fired his valet for not serving his tea at the proper temperature. 

Fortunately, an applicant for the job is on the spot: Passepartout (Omri Schein), an excitable Frenchman with an interesting resume: circus rider, trapeze artist, tightrope walker, gymnastics teacher and member of the Paris Fire Brigade.

Fogg hires him and announces that they’re leaving for Dover in ten minutes, and would he please pack a carpetbag. And they’re off. 

Allison Bibicoff directs Mark Brown’s hilarious stage adaptation of the Verne story. It’s on the boards through Feb. 4 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. 

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 Detective Fix (Loren Lester) – convinced that Fogg stole a considerable sum from a London bank – and lovely coincidences like adding Aouda (Lovlee Carroll) to the group after saving her from ritual death on her late husband’s funeral pyre.

This version is almost as much a triumph of stagecraft – Bibicoff’s sprightly direction, Marty Burnett’s versatile set, Kimberly DeShazo’s colorful costumes, Dave Mickey’s sounds (foghorn, steamer, etc.) – as it is for these five supremely talented actors, who collectively play 42 characters, often requiring split-second changes.

The cast rides a cleverly-constructed elephant in India, survives an Apache attack in the American West, even weathers a typhoon on their way to the 80th-day deadline.

Baird, most often seen in serious roles, is hilariously faux-serious here as the overprogrammed Fogg, accustomed to buying his way out of any jam.

Schein, comedian par excellence in these parts, is perfect as the do-everything Passepartout, and shows that he can even do a headstand.

Lovlee Carroll lives up to her name as Aouda, the recent widow who turns Fogg’s head and makes a most welcome addition to the Fogg gang.

Loren Lester plays eight characters but is mostly seen as Det. Fix, hilariously foiled at every turn in his mission to arrest Fogg as the thief.

Will Vought gets a huge workout as he morphs into 16 characters at the drop of a hat. 

Bravo also to Dave Mickey’s sound design, Matt Novotny’s lighting and Holly Gillard’s props, all adding to this exceptional production.

Grab a friend and get up to North Coast for a fine evening’s entertainment.

The details

“Around the World in 80 Days” plays through February 4, 2018, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org