“Around the World In 80 Days” should be a wild ride on a roller coaster.
But Arizona Theatre Company’s production of Mark Brown’s adaptation of the Jules Verne novel is more of a leisurely stroll through an amusement park.
At Friday night’s opening, the pacing was off, the energy down, and the humor subdued.
Which is a shame. The script cries out for a frenzied pace, lots of physical humor and bits that would amp up the comedy and the goofiness of it all.
The story is a well-known one: Phileas Fogg (a stoic Mark Anders) bets his pals at a London gentlemen’s club that he can go around the world in 80 days. Now, this is 1872, and the idea is preposterous. Naturally, his bet is accepted.
Along for the ride is his servant, the Frenchman Passepartout (Jon Gentry, who, thankfully, was not above hamming it up). Together they set off on boats and trains, only to be waylaid by unfinished tracks, a gentlemanly rescue of a woman about to be cremated with her dead husband, a typhoon, missed boats — clearly, Phileas is in deep danger of losing his bet.
Filling out the cast — and playing a multitude of characters (as did Gentry) — are Yolanda London, Kyle Sorrell and Bob Sorenson. This is a dynamite group of actors. They just never ignited.
The production would have been better served if director David Saar had given us a show with a bit more tension (it never felt as though the stakes were high for any of the characters), tongue in its cheek and an eye toward outrageousness.
What did work well, however, was the wildly clever theatrical tricks and set pieces — the conversion of boxes into an elephant, a boat steering wheel, sheet and sound effects to simulate a storm, a tall, straight column with a crown that sprouted leaves to clue us in on where in the world the characters were. ATC is known around the country for its innovative and accomplished production crew. Led here by scenic designer Carey Wong, it did not disappoint.
Opening night is usually packed with an audience primed to love whatever is on stage. It was telling Friday that the first act brought few laughs, and while there were more in the second, the play never worked up the energy to take us on the wild ride we’d hoped for.