By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Meanwhile, Fogg (Steve Coogan) is now transformed from an enigmatic robot of a man to a wacky dreamer/inventor of flying devices. Verne’s Fogg travels the globe, risking life and limb on a bet, simply and smugly to prove a trifling point, whereas Disney inflates his wager into some kind of ideological rift between the traditionalists of the Royal Academy of Science (who believe that nothing more can be invented) and Fogg, who is now an emblem of creativity and progress. This was probably done to make Fogg more interesting or heroic or romantic or something. It goes without saying that Disney’s meddling crashes directly into Verne’s core idea, which is that Fogg, though overstuffed with honor, is almost bereft of imagination and humanity. While Passepartout yearns to linger in foreign cultures, Fogg simply slogs through the Empire with one eye on his travelogue and the other on his watch because, as we all know, time is money. Some light finally penetrates Fogg when a Calcutta woman, whom he saved from being burned alive by religious fanatics (and only because he had a couple of days to spare), is able to soften his leather heart.
The contrasts between Fogg and Passepartout, along with the other essences of Verne’s story, are largely eviscerated in Disney’s character twists, the added plots, the swordfights, the Keystone Kops tone, the wooden mugging performances, the puerile jokes, not to mention governor-to-be Arnold parodying himself as a womanizing Turkish prince. Worse than being pointless, it’s not even funny. And it cost $117 million.
At the Colony Theater, Brown’s adaptation has five actors telling the story while shape-shifting and flinging costumes and wigs backstage on the turn of a ha’penny.
Donna Marquet’s set features a hardwood floor, accented by a potted plant on either side, a proscenium frame of maroon curtains, and a quartet of rotating panels, each containing on one side a sliver from a map of the world. This means that all the pictures from around Verne’s globe are conjured from dialogue and rudimentary theatrical devices.
An elephant outside Bombay consists of a table (pulled by a rope) with chairs parked on top. With the actors in place, jerking from side to side in unison (with facial expressions ranging from bemusement to panic) in tandem with sound designer Drew Dalzell’s recorded, thumping footsteps and squeals, the pachyderm whimsically materializes.
An entrepreneur named Mudge (Morgan Rusler, in one of a series of brilliant cameos) offers transport to Fogg and company across a frigid American plain on a wind sled. The group huddles, and with the eerie hum from a couple of actors twirling vacuum-cleaner hoses, and a narrator describing the icy scenery floating by, the goofy, magical effect is a fulfillment of theater’s low-tech capacity to transport an audience on a whim and a word.
Tony Maggio, the only actor not playing multiple roles, portrays a perfectly Niven-like Fogg, a straight man to Jeff Marlow’s elastic Passepartout, who whips a French accent and a few dollops of indignance into a comedic froth. Also charming are Larry Cedar’s goggle-eyed detective and Kwana Martinez’s narrator and ingénue, Aouda.
Director Novinski moves his actors with choreographed precision and sets a fanciful tone that dips into burlesque but doesn’t dwell there. And that’s the difference between this production and the Disney movie. Novinski’s staging isn’t so much reverential as respectful of Verne, and of Brown’s faithful adaptation. It recognizes and punctuates the contemporary resonance of an old book without mutating or muting it. See this production and you’ll meet Jules Verne. It’s a delight, and it closes on Sunday.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS| Adapted for the stage by MARK BROWN from the novel by JULES VERNE | At the COLONY THEATER, 555 N. Third St., Burbank | (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org | Through July 11