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Reviewed by Mike Kellerman; May 4, 2009

Phileas Fogg is a proper and predictable English gentleman. He is always prompt and courteous and enjoys the comforts of strict routine. Thus the narrator assures us in director Bonnie J. Monte’s theatrical adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and in the process sets the scene for the onset of a fantastic adventure. Mr. Phileas Fogg, played with dry English elegance by Robert Krakovski, becomes involved in an argument regarding a newspaper article that claims that, with the opening of a new Indian railroad, it is possible to travel around the globe in eighty days. His fellow members of the Reform Club wager him 20,000 pounds that he cannot make the journey himself in eighty days. This leads him and his newly hired servant Monsieur Passepartout, played with madcap brilliance by Kevin Isola, to embark on this unorthodox journey. Traveling east to Suez and then by boat to India, they encounter many local characters played with great precision by Edmond Genest and Jay Leibowitz, clearly two masters of transforming accent and manner, making the cultures of their various stops on the journey come alive. In India, they rescue a young woman named Aouda, played with gentle grace by Maureen Sebastian, from the funeral pyre of her husband and escort her to her cousin in Hong Kong, but when they discover he has moved to Holland, she joins their intrepid quest. Meanwhile, the companions continually dodge the machinations of Detective Fix, a bumbling Scotland Yard detective played with great skill by David Foubert, who has become convinced that Mr. Fogg is a bank robber. In reality, Mr. Fogg merely resembles the criminal. The brave companions encounter many delays but manage to persevere in their journey, and all the while, a growing attraction between Mr. Fogg and Aouda becomes evident to everyone besides Mr. Fogg himself, providing much satisfying drama. Ultimately, it appears that Mr. Fogg and company reach England again too late, until they realize that they gained a day traveling east around the world, and he wins his daring wager, having also gained Aouda’s hand in the enterprise.

The set design for the production was inspired, using various set pieces to evoke the whirlwind of different cultures encountered on the journey. The painted globe on the floor, the ever-present clock, and the backdrop evoking different weather conditions were effective accents that added to the sense of urgency in winning Mr. Fogg’s wager. The screens announcing various locales and scenarios and the excellent narration created the illusion that the viewer was in fact watching a novel unfold. The lighting effects evoked both sunny ports and dangerous typhoons. The costumes were sumptuous, recalling the Victorian elegance of English frock coats, top hats and pocket watches, the mysticism of Indian priests, and the grit of the American West, just to name a few examples. The scene changes felt natural and fluid, aiding the voyage in its progression. Given that the theme of this season for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is “Fantastic Voyages,” this reviewer cannot imagine a more enjoyable, funny, and impressive maiden voyage. Be sure not to miss this enchanting trip!