Billed as 5 actors. 7 continents. One very funny show. The Lakeshore Players new production Around the World in 80 Days, succeeds. The creativity that has gone into it makes for an evening of laughs and thrills. A cast and crew that transports us on a journey around the world populated by dozens of unique and hilarious characters. This was my first visit to the Lakeshore Players Theatre in White Bear Lake, it’s a little out of the way but for an evening as fun filled and enjoyable as this, it’s worth the drive. Tip to the wise, arrive early, the capacity of the theatre exceeds the capacity of the parking lot.
Around the World in 80 days by Mark Brown is based on the novel by Jules Verne. It tells the story of Phileas Fogg a British Gentleman who makes a wager with the members of The Reform Club where he dines for lunch and dinner everyday like clockwork. He bets his entire fortune, 20,000 pounds, that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. His departure with his new servant Passepartout coincides with a bank robbery committed by an unknown “gentleman”. This coincidence results in suspicions that Fogg maybe the robber, and thus he is pursued on his journey by Detective Fix. Fortunately for Fogg, Fix has to wait for the warrant he has requested to catch up with them before he can arrest Fogg on his suspicions. They always seem to stay one or two days ahead of the warrant with Fix doing everything he can to delay Fogg. Fogg shows his stuff with the perseverance with which he meets every obstacle and finds a way to overcome everything fix and fate throw in his path. Along the way they rescue Aouda, an Indian Princess who is going to be burned alive with her late husband. They travel through the Suez canal, India, Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S. in their race against time to reach London in the given 80 days.
The image above from the Lakeshore Players website is a perfect illustration of what comes to my mind when I think of this story. Oddly, there is no hot air balloon in the play. One can understand it’s exclusion, outside of a large scale Broadway production, creating a hot air balloon journey on stage probably seemed to the playwright as a challenge most theatres would prefer not to have to attempt. I suspect though that Sadie Ward, the Set Designer of this production would have been up to the task. The set a multilevel affair does a brilliant job of representing everything from Foggs home in London, a train car, a boat and even an elephant! The secret of the show is the manner in which it presents itself. From the very beginning it winks to the audience and lets us know throughout that it is very much aware that it is a theatrical performance. By acknowledging the fact, it invites us to do our part in creating the bridge between a pile of trunks and a sled. It uses its limitations to add to the humor and enjoyment of the show. The performance is accompanied by two Foley Artists who in full view of the audience create the sound effects that accompany the action. It was like a combination of a play and an old radio show. At times the Foley Artists and Sound Designers, Jackson Miller and Nathaniel Glewwe even interact and are acknowledged by the cast. These moments that should take us out of the play but they actually help us buy into it. The whole production comes together beautifully through the direction of Rose Schwietz.
The five actors are said to portray 39 different characters, personally I lost count. But again while they create unique and fun characters, there is no pretense that we shouldn’t realize it’s the same 5 actors in all of the roles. In fact much of the humor comes from our knowing which performer it is and the costume changes required. For instance at one point we watch as Brandon Osero (who creates an astonishing 17 characters) exits the stage pulling off a sideburn as he goes and yelps at the pain, what can he do he’s due back on stage in 8 seconds as a character without sideburns. In another split second switch Brandon Cayetano changes from Detective Fix to a Railroad Conductor for about 3 seconds by switching hats, saying a line, and then switching back, in full view of the audience. Again, these moments generate laughs and good will rather than distancing us from the story it makes us feel like we are included in the fun. The majority of the multiple roles are played by these two actors. Osero, was very accomplished, having two or three characters that played out in legs of the journey but then also taking on many of the smaller quick scene characters. Always finding the humor and the exact right way to distinguish each character from the last. Cayetano, worried me at first, he seemed to have that mannerism we see in new actors who are not sure what to do with their arms. That didn’t go away, but he won me over with his line readings. No one outshone him in comic timing and delivery of those delicious winks to the audience. If he can overcome the slightly uncomfortable stage presence I suspect he is going to have long career as a character actor, a go-to man for comic roles. Mitchell Geiken as near as I can tell only played Phileas Fogg, though he may have had one or two other small bits. He was the straight man for the most part, but it was a role he excelled at. No matter what obstacle was thrown at him, he proceeded ever forward with a stiff upper lip. This could have been one note but it wasn’t, he actually brought out the admirable qualities of the character in a way that made you root for him. He could have come off as robotic and unreal, but he made a character that could have been a bore, into an inspiration. Autumn Sisson as Passepartout like Geiken rarely played anyone aside from her main role, she nailed the role. She gave me pause as well at the beginning, her french accent was a little hard to decipher at first but it was more a matter of training my ear. Before long she was perfectly understandable, and the accent was really well done. Her Passepartout is adventurous and faithful and my favorite among the main characters. Finally Kavya Kalur who played Aouda was another performer who gave me pause at the beginning. Like Sisson I had trouble with the vocals and unfortunately that didn’t improve over the course of the play. This wasn’t a matter of accent, as she played several different characters, but more of projection. She played Aouda well, and we believe the affection that is growing between her and Fogg, but I struggled throughout the evening to hear her dialogue.
Around the world in 80 Days plays through February 16th at the Lakeshore Players Theatre in White Bear Lake for more information and for tickets go to https://www.lakeshoreplayers.org/