Back in 2013, Allison Bibicoff directed a production of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS in Long Beach that delighted audiences and won overwhelming critical acclaim. Now, the people in Los Angeles can get in on the fun as she has assembled a new and extremely talented cast (in alphabetical order: Sujana Chand, Gabriel Oliva, Thaddeus Shafer, Brian Stanton and Michael Uribes) for the sow’s new 2016 production now onstage on the Matrix Theatre.
In Mark Brown’s playful stage adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, five actors portray all 39 colorful characters. The plot, for the uninitiated, centers on British gentleman Phileas Fogg who bets members of his London club the substantial sum of 20,000 pounds that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. The men scoff at him and place their bets, causing Fogg to immediately set off on the original Great Race, accompanied by his new French butler Passepartout. Of the five actors in the show, Thaddeus Shafer has the luxury of only playing only Fogg which he does with top hat and class as his dream of mathematically proving the feat can be done.
As Passepartout, Michael Uribes poses, prances and dances about with the grace of a man who knows his main goal is to enjoy being of service not only to his boss but to the appreciative audience who acknowledges every funny moment he shares onstage. Bibicoff was wise to allow this talented actor to use his remarkably rubber face and body to the height of its ability throughout the show. From the wilds of the Indian jungle to the even wilder American West, Fogg and Passepartout race to meet the deadline as the days fall short.
Sujana Chand makes her L.A. theatrical debut in the show as Aouda (as well as several other characters), the Indian woman Fogg saves from death and winds up relying on her as much as Passepartout during the trips many mishaps. Chand knows how to play along and brings a real air of humanity to all the craziness. After having spent the last 8 years touring with Cirque du Soleil, Chand is certainly a welcome addition to local theater and I look forward to catching her future endeavors as she knows how to light up the stage with her presence.
As he sets off on his travels, Fogg is unaware he has become the prime suspect in a bank robbery and is being relentlessly pursued in his global travels by Fix, a bumbling detective portrayed par excellence by Brian Stanton who also takes on many other roles, most notably an Elephant Owner who makes sure the group’s escape aboard the pachyderm is one of the funniest scenes in the show. Stanton enthusiasm for the show is apparent in his every appearance onstage with each character being more outrageous than the one before.
Rounding out the cast and taking on more roles than I could count is Gabriel Oliva, whose foul-smelling Mudge manages to save the other travelers with his prairie-flying wind machine. He and Stanton enhance every scene in which they appear with a variety of accents, costumes, and characters that change in the blink of an eye thanks to the talented and extremely organized backstage crew of just two who makes sure each costume change is accomplished in a matter of minutes. As is the case in Noises Off, I wish we could get a glimpse of the show going on backstage. It must be quite a riot as the men change costumes from character to character in a matter of seconds, sometimes onstage!
Kudos to Stage Manager Bernice Mendez and her team for their dedication to preventing the chaos backstage from interfering with the onstage action. I just wish the backstage action was something we could witness to appreciate how the onstage magic is accomplished. And a big part of that magic is the incredible scenic design by Chris Schmidt which consists of a large map of the world on which the locations of each scene is noted and chairs placed on the map effectively disappear into the painted design by Nary Hanson. Kimberly DeShazo’s costumes reflect both the truthful as well as comical aspects of each. Sound and lighting by Dave Mickey and R. Christopher Stokes are also top notch.
The overall effect of cast and crew talents is managed craziness taking place in a wonderfully creative entertainment. Make plans to see it when you are ready to laugh and experience the wonder of staged brilliance!
“Around the World in 80 days,” written by Mark Brown, based on the novel by Jules Verne, is directed by Allison Bibicoff and presented by Lost Dog Productions at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, through Oct. 16. Regular performances: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is $34 adults; $29 seniors; $15 students with I.D.; $12 children under 14. Make reservations by calling 323-960-4429 on online at www.Plays411.com/ aroundtheworld.