What a trip.
International City Theatre, never one to shy away from a challenge, took on a particularly arduous endeavor to open its 28th season —a stage adaptation of “Around the World in 80 Days.” The trip was more than worth the price.
Jules Verne’s classic romp covers the globe and nearly three months. ICT’s recreation covers the Center Theater stage (and a touch more) and just more than two hours.
Thanks to the impressively efficient script by Mark Brown (who was in the audience opening night), the manic energy of a five-person cast and the precise yet fun-loving direction of Allison Bibicoff, the play triumphs as surely as Phileus Fogg.
There are few in the world today not familiar with the tale of the punctilious Fogg’s adventures as he travels around the world in the 1870s world of tramp steamers, steam-engine railroads and wild Indians. Brown’s script takes advantage of that familiarity, allowing a few choice scenes to propel the story forward at breakneck speed.
That pace is epitomized in the large set piece that is central to Staci Walters’s stage design, with its “Laugh-In”-style portholes and detachable, multi-use parts. Four chairs and a platform do duty as trains, steamers and an elephant (it has to be seen to be believed, but trust me, it works).
As is always the case, script, scenery and the rest would be lost without the efforts of the cast, and this cast is truly extraordinary. Five people play 39 characters, and four carry the bulk of the load simply because Jud Williford is on stage as Phileus Fogg for essentially the entire play.
Williford’s primary task? Keep a straight face and stiff upper lip while the chaos swirls around him. He pulls it off with aplomb.
As any “80 Days” fan knows, the other primary characters are Fogg’s manservant Passepartout, the bumbling Detective Fix and the love interest, the beautiful Princess Aouda. But the script calls for a parade of international bit characters, as well.
Michael Uribes’s primary task is to portray the multi-talented Passepartout, which he does with a Jackie Chan flare for both the acrobatic and comedic. In between somersaults and tightrope walks, he quick-changes into several other roles.
The bumbling detective is played with clownish precision by Brian Stanton, who stays in the proper character even while adding his fair share of bit parts. Melinda Porto caused many a heart to palpitate as the princess, with most forgetting she played several male parts before shifting into her East Indian garb.
But in terms of becoming a one-man repertoire company, the night belonged to Mark Gagliardi. He comes as no surprise to learn he is a veteran of the “National Lampoon Lemmings” cast; his bit parts invariably stole the scene every time he was on stage. He was at the edge of the over-the-top abyss most of the evening, yet never fell in.
As ICT board president Jim Preusch said before the play, you know there are going to be wardrobe malfunctions when five people play 39 characters. The key is how you handle them. And this crew handled them with the quick wit and sense of humor that spells true professionals.
Take this trip around the world. It will create some fond memories. Guaranteed.
“Around the World in 80 Days” continues Thursdays through Sundays through Feb. 17 at the Center Theater, part of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. For tickets or more information, call 436-4610 or go to www.InternationalCityTheatre.com.