Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
At the performance I attended, children in the audience were fully engaged, few missing any chance to chime in with help for our cast in distress. This exuberance makes the adventures of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout all the more exciting, something I find totally lacking in Mike Todd's overblown screen treatment. The standout visual effect here is a sequence after a train out of Calcutta has left our intrepid group short of their expected destination. They commandeer an elephant to get them the rest of the way. I don't know why, but elephants often bring out the most vivid theatrics in their productions. Another stage trick involving the exchange of money should become tired before the end of the play, but based on audience reaction, once more is just that, another chance to enjoy the stagecraft.
Our cast is led by Andrew Pollard as a stiff in the collar Phileas Fogg, a man of ritual and punctuality who sets out on the world travels that give the story its name. Michael Hugo is a delightful comic presence as French valet Passepartout; he pretty much steals the show. Understudy Stefan Ruiz was on for another actor as Inspector Fix, but without an announcement it would have been impossible to know he isn't part of the everyday cast. Kirsten Foster provides some wistfulness and is eventually a love interest as Mrs. Aouda, saved from a horrible fate in India. Pushpinder Chani, Matthew Ganley, Nyron Levy and Joey Parsad jump in and out of roles so fast that in a couple of crowd scenes it would be possible to believe that the stage manager had smuggled four or more additional bodies onto the stage, costumes and identities are dropped and assumed so quickly.
The real heroine of the entertainment is director Theresa Heskins who masterminds the endlessly inventive staging. The presentation style owes a great deal to British pantomime, and more is the pity that Americans don't get to experience it more often.
Many technical people are credited and all contribute mightily, but designer Lis Evans, movement director Beverley Norris-Edmunds, and lighting designer Alexandra Stafford are standouts.
Around the World in 80 Days is delightful entertainment for families with children and families without them. It may not be high art, but it sure is a splendid two hours of theater.
Around the World in 80 Days, through June 23, 2019, at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Mertz Theatre, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For information and tickets, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order):