Shrinking an 80-day journey into a little more than 60 minutes of stage time is quite a challenge. But in this world premiere version of the Jules Verne classic, adapted for the stage by the Shahrazad Theatre Company and produced in association with Ensemble Theatre, lots of ground is covered thanks to the robust direction and choreography by August Scarpelli.
It’s a highly stylized and frequently engaging production, with actors racing about, pratfalling, and generally behaving like kids amped up on too much Pepsi and gummy bears. Two performers (Kayla Davis and Becca Mosely) narrate the story of Londoner Phileas Fogg and the bet he makes with his rich buddies that sends him and his valet Passepartout around the world in attempt to beat the 80-day time limit and win a substantial pile coin. That would be £20,000 to be exact, more than two million in today’s currency.
So off they go. It’s all acted out in period-ish costumes and socks on a padded stage emblazoned with a map of the world so the audience can track the duo’s progress. Of course, they’re not alone since their every step is being followed by Scotland Yard’s Detective Fix (a hilarious Valerie Young, drawing out her vowels like skeins of ribbons). He is a most diligent and determined lawman who is eager to hand Fogg a arrest warrant—the result of mistaken identity—for robbing a bank.
Presented at warp speed, the show is entertaining thanks to some imaginative use of silhouette art behind a screen, and a few performances. As Passepartout, Kyle Huff is a dervish as he bounces back and forth between Fogg’s fuming demands and Fix’s fixations. And Huff does a happy dance now and then that is both weird and enormously satisfying. As Fogg, Hannah Storch is a properly starchy presence, arrogantly issuing orders to his valet and other minions they meet along the way.
Most of this production, including the cross-gender casting, works quite well, although a subplot involving a young Indian woman named Aouda (Andrew Keller) never makes much sense. But that’s okay, since this short show, which has a ten-minute intermission, is all about energy and momentum.
The only downside to that speed is that words are frequently lost due to a lack of enunciation. Other than Young and Storch, who display a fierce attention to proper diction, many phrases and sentences are lost in the rush.
Still, it’s a diverting way to revisit this old story, thanks to Scarpelli’s energetic direction and the inventive performances crafted by Young and Huff.
Around the World in 80 Days
Through December 16 at Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930, ensembletheatrecle.org.