Make us your home page

Review: Whimsical romp — with an elephant! — 'Around the World in 80 Days'

Come along, ol' chums, on an irresistible journey — an expedition designed to delight you, a peregrination through various human vanities and foibles, and a whizzing ride of whimsy — Around the World in 80 Days.

American Stage's rollicking production of Mark Brown's adaptation of Jules Verne's famous novel will tickle you the way Monty Python did in its heyday. It is full of dry humor and double-takes, rubbery faces and razor-sharp repartee.

And there's an elephant on stage!

All this is accomplished — the journey and the stage production — with a fair amount of theatrical derring-do. Jungles must be traversed, damsels must be rescued, typhoons and American Indians must be fought. Five actors play a total of 31 characters, often switching costumes in what seems like the blink of an eye. Then there are the technical requirements of turning a London drawing room into a series of ships, trains, wharves and bazaars as the travelers make their way eastward.

The ingenious set designed by Jerid Fox includes a large 19th-century clock of the kind once seen in train stations, which can be turned into projected images of scenery and a helpful map to chart the party's progress. As director/producing artistic director Todd Olson told the audience beforehand, this play might be the most complex technical production the company has done during his 11 seasons with the company.

"We have 280 sound cues, 200 light cues, 45 film cues, four moving lights, 40 costumes and four fog machines," he said. All are programed by computer.

The ensemble cast, however, is the core of the show. In the comic parts, Matthew McGee, Brian Shea and Brad DePlanche have impeccable timing and a plethora of mannerisms. McGee alone plays 16 of the parts, including narrator, British soldier, colonial judge, sea captain, Chinese broker, a series of clerks and officials, and a hilarious parody of an American cowboy who doesn't know the difference between London and France and who believes violence is the solution to any problem. (Don't worry; the ridiculous pretensions of Victorian Englishmen get a good bit of skewering, too.) McGee is such a welcome presence on stage that you can't wait to see in what costume he'll turn up next.

Shea is the only actor who plays just one part, that of the bumbling but loyal French manservant, whose running joke about his "time-piece" is both funny and foreshadowing. DePlanche gets the pompous roles, including a caricature of an overstuffed British gentleman and the clueless but committed Scotland Yard detective. He owns the elephant too.

After a few quick trouser roles, Jonelle M. Meyer plays the Parsi maiden Aouda, whose rescue from a burning funeral pyre introduces the unpredictable prospect of romance into what had been an all-male adventure.

Then there is the indefatigable Phileas Fogg, played by Brian Webb Russell. He's the straight man, often exasperated by the idiocies that surround him. He is so sure of his calculations and ability to handle any contingency that he doesn't hesitate to wager his fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe within this unprecedented time frame. He is also the dramatic backbone of the play, as he transforms from a man who is terse, exacting and incurious, into someone noble, generous, even playful; and, finally, in love. Russell brings an attractive assurance to the role.

And that elephant deserves another mention. She is actually an elaborate and colorful puppet at the head of a wagon, also designed by Fox. She is steady enough that one can even serve tea while riding her. "Have you any clotted cream?" Sir Francis Cromarty asks the manservant Passepartout.

Perhaps not, but this exuberant play has everything else.

.if you go

Around the world

The play runs through April 13 at American Stage Theatre Company at Raymond James Theater, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. $39-$49. (727) 823-7529.

Review: Whimsical romp — with an elephant! — 'Around the World in 80 Days' 03/24/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 7:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Seasoned cast scores an extra-base hit for St. Petersburg Opera with 'Faust'


    TAMPA — Charles Gounod's Faust sets the table early. The world-weary philosopher immortalized in a dramatic poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is in his study, lamenting his state of affairs. He's willing to give away everything he has to be young again, even his soul.

    The St. Petersburg Opera Company begins its season with Faust, in a production seemingly aligned with the original intent of French composer Charles Gounod and librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre. [St. Petersburg Opera Company]
  2. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway


    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.
  3. A scene from "Epiphany."
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 22


    Clearwater Jazz Holiday: The Avett Brothers: The Avett Brothers, with their blend of folk, bluegrass and rock, lead the lineup. 1:30 p.m., Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., Clearwater. $16 per day, $45 reserved, $170 VIP. (727) 461-5200.

    AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 15:  (L-R)  Joe Kwon, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett, and Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers pose for a portrait at the "May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers" Premiere - 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals on March 15, 2017 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW)
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 21


    Conor Oberst: The Bright Eyes mastermind will be joined by opener, the Felice Brothers. 8 p.m., Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $30.50-$36. (727) 791-7400.

    Handout photo of Conor Oberst, performing Oct. 21 at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Credit: Grandstand Media