Arts & Entertainment
Theater Review "Around the World in 80 Days"
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 2
By Ben Miles
That renowned "Father of Science Fiction," Jules Verne was both prolific and prophetic. In 54 novels, collectively titled "Voyages Extraordinaires," which includes "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," and "Paris in the 20th Century"—Verne foresaw such inventions as submarines, helicopters, fossil-fueled automobiles, calculators, and the Internet.
In what arguably is Verne's most popular pulp adventure, "Around the World in 80 Days," the plotline, circa 1872, has one Phileas Fogg wagering with his fellow Reform Club members that he (Fogg) can circumnavigate the earth in no more than 80 days. The bet is so ludicrous that Fogg easily finds bid takers among his fellow country clubmen of the day.
What is inarguable is that Verne's intriguing premise inspired reporters, daredevils, and dilettantes of his day to become globe rounding adventurers. Notably in 1889, Nellie Bly made her circular journey in only 72 days. Not to be outdone, in 1903, theater critic James Willis Sayre trotted the sphere in just 54 days.
Verne's "80 Days" conceit motivated world travelers for well over a century. In fact, in 2004 Mark Brown was so moved that he adapted the story to stage. That same year, The Sacramento Bee named Brown's script as the Best Theatrical Comedy.
Now, Long Beach’s International City Theatre presents "Around the World in 80 Days," through February 17. Thanks to Allison Bibicoff’s astute direction and top-notch production values (kudos to Staci Walters’ mutable map-of-the-world scenic design, Kim DeShazo’s retro-dandy costumes, Dave Mickey’s evocatively inventive sound motif and Donna Ruzika’s lighthearted lighting design), this is a trip well-worth the purchase of a ticket.
Couple the meticulous technical crew with a crackerjack cast of five well synchronized performers, playing three dozen and three parts in various guises and disguises (including Jud V. Williford, purposeful and perfectly poised as Phileas Fogg; Melinda Porto, impressive and charming in various female, as well as, male roles; Mark Gagliardi in several chameleon-like incarnations; Brian Stanton, particularly amusing as a Scotland Yard detective; and, Michael Uribes, oh so agile, and quirkily cute, as frisky Frenchman Passepartout) — and this "Around the World in 80 Days" remains as enchanting as Verne's novel and true to his 19th century sensibilities, only now it's a live visual and auditory treat, tailor-made for live theater, and appropriate for all audiences.
"Around the World in 80 Days" continues at the International City Theatre through February 17. ICT is located at the Center Theater in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center – 300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (562) 436-4610. For more online ticketing and further details, visit www.ictlongbeach.org.