Asolo Repertory Theatre has fared well with its past few seasons of family-friendly summer entertainment, with shows like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the circus-themed Hetty Feather. Its current offering, an adaptation by Laura Eason of Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days, may be the most fun and exhilarating ride yet.
Director Theresa Heskins and her cast and crew waste little time in getting to the heart of the adventure, briefly showing us the mundane day-to-day existence of Londoner Phileas Fogg (Andrew Pollard), making his rounds from home to club and back, before heading us on that journey around the globe spurred by a wager. Eight actors adeptly bring to life the characters of Verne’s creation, from ship captains to customs officials to policemen and more, as the unflappable Fogg and his indispensable servant, Passepartout (Michael Hugo), navigate through India, Hong Kong, the American West and more, defying every obstacle in their way.
It’s a major undertaking that Heskins and the ensemble manage to make seem easy, as they simulate the sway or roll of a train or a ship, passing from country to country with fast changes of hats or accents, even contriving an elephant out of no more than fabric, two actors and plenty of imagination.
They’re aided every step of the way by the perfectly timed and culturally representative music of composer James Atherton, along with clever sound effects (by designers James Earls- Davis and Alex Day), creative movement by Beverley Norris-Edmunds (the excellently choreographed fight scenes, a la Bruce Lee movies, are a hoot, as are chase scenes inspired by silent films), adroit lighting by Alexandra Stafford, and the set design by Lis Evans, which needs little more than mounds of trunks and suitcases to suggest Fogg’s journey. A multitude of props swiftly brought on and off stage by the cast members helps greatly with that, too.
As the calm center amid great flurries of action, Pollard embodies the traditional image of the British gentleman. Kirsten Foster is a delightful Mrs. Aouda, rescued from death by suttee to become Fogg’s traveling companion, and Dennis Herdman makes the most of his role as the dogged but inept Inspector Fix, on Fogg’s trail because he believes him to be a bank robber.
Pushpinder Chani, Matthew Ganley, Nyron Levy and Joey Parsad are all crucial in a variety of roles to keeping the story moving. But in this team effort, the ever-engaging Michael Hugo as Passepartout must be singled out as the MVP. He seems perfectly at home with the audience (which is occasionally invited to participate) and with the demanding physical aspects of his comic role. He never disappoints, and frequently surprises.
Kudos to Heskins and Eason for their conception of this version of Verne. Audiences should be ready to pack their bags to come along on a thoroughly enjoyable trip.
Around the World in 80 Days continues through June 23; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.