Sunday, December 3, 2017

Around the World in Eighty Days: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Michael Gene Sullivan steals the show. No, Ron Campbell steals the show. No, Tristan Cunningham steals the show. Jason Kuykendall and Ajna Jai are terrific too. So let it be known that Mark Brown's adaptation of Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," in this latest Theatreworks production, is so good that every character makes us howl with delight.

We all know the story, so the show is completely character-driven. From the opening, when Campbell lets loose his fearsome voice as an usher, we are delighted each time he appears, as various British consuls, or Captain Speedy, or Judge Obadiah or even San Francisco's own Emperor Norton.

The little boy inside Michael Gene Sullivan gets to come to the front of the stage. As Detective Fix, he is determined to solve the crime that exists only in his own head, even if to do so he must accompany Phileas Fogg (Kuykendall) on his epic journey around the world. He blusters, he stammers, he creates foolish plots worthy of Wile E. Coyote, all the while maintaining his supposed dignity as a guardian of the crown. He also gets to drive an elephant.

Cunningham is an acrobat and one heck of a Frenchman, for a young woman wearing a bad mustache. She could have made this role pure slapstick, but instead we feel kinship with her attempt to remain a loyal servant to the eternally calm Mr. Fogg.

That Phileas Fogg falls in love with Princess Aouda makes perfect sense, even though it really makes no sense at all. Ajna Jai is excellent in her role as a woman who was supposed to be sacrificed to religious dogma but finds herself instead the love interest of her British savior. We may question whether this is an improvement, but she does not.

There are puns upon puns (yes, Robert Kelley, we heard the "yeah, yeah, yeah" when the ship docks in Liverpool), endless nonstop adventure and spectacular staging. The mystery is not where the iconic balloon is or isn't (explained in the program), but how Ron Campbell can possibly switch costumes and accents so quickly. Too bad about the theme song, not in the play at all but which we sang all the way home.

Take everyone in the family to this show. There were small children and oldsters like us in the audience and everyone walked out smiling and laughing. We love everything about "Around the World in Eighty Days."


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Around the World in Eighty Days" Four Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. It is a seamless production that earns one Star each for Writing, Acting, Directing and Staging, plus a Bangle of Praise for the cowboy (Campbell) scene as their train is shooting over a river in Nebraska. Don't forget the typhoon scene too. Oh, hell, throw 'em all in. Terrific.

"Around the World in Eighty Days"
Theatreworks, Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through Dec. 31