Forget CBS. The amazing race you need to be concerned about has to do with the Human Race Theatre Company’s outstanding production of Jules Verne’s classic comedy Around the World in 80 Days, a dandy display of engaging storytelling and splendid acting continuing through March 17 at the Loft Theatre.
Under the delightfully imaginative, fluidly comedic direction of Joe Deer, Mark Brown’s adaptation, set in Victorian England circa 1872, is a breezy, enthusiastic adventure spanning Calcutta, Hong Kong, New York City and points in between complete with a typhoon, a runaway train and an elephant. Granted, the iconic hot air balloon featured in producer Mike Todd’s 1956 Academy Award-winning Best Picture isn’t included in Verne’s novel, and is therefore not in the show, but there’s a great deal to enjoy overall as chasing time becomes imperative for Mr. Phileas Fogg. After all, Fogg, portrayed with utmost sophistication and upright seriousness by Jared Joplin, risks his fortune and reputation on his titular wager, ultimately proving that anyone, whether captain or colonel, can be of use if the price is right.
As Joplin leads the way embodying the prickly and eccentric yet generous Fogg, bravely adhering to the notion that “the unforeseen does not exist,” 30 other characters leap forth with infectious glee by a group of four diverse and versatile actors. The energetic, nimble Patrick Earl Phillips displays impressive physicality as the excitedly quirky Passepartout, Fogg’s devoted, impressionable valet. In addition to portraying a beautiful Parsee princess rescued from a sacrificial ritual, Lovelee Carroll, strikingly dressed by costumer Cat Schmeal-Swope, rightfully receives applause near the outset as a chipper newsboy spiritedly detailing Fogg’s itinerary accented by a Family Feud-esque visual. Darlene Spencer brings cool authoritative determination and believably perturbed agitation to her key portrayal of villainous Detective Fix, firmly believing Fogg is a bank robber who must be stopped at all costs. Jake Lockwood, one of the finest improv actors in the region, steals the show with delicious comic timing interpreting a whopping 17 characters including a flirtatious consul and a kooky judge. Lockwood is so good that I’m waiting for someone to write him a one-man play in which he portrays all of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. As of this writing, the official list has grown to 12. I’m eager to see what he would do with Sanders, Warren, Harris, Castro, Klobuchar, and Booker. Who needs the Capitol Steps when you have Lockwood?
In addition to essentially creating the world of the show with four chairs, four large trunks and an assortment of luggage along with Heather Powell’s nifty properties, Deer instills a cohesive chemistry among the cast. I particularly enjoyed Phillips and Spencer encircling each other in mystery and fear when Passepartout finally catches on to Detective Fix’s sly plans. Equally noteworthy are Dick Block’s handsome set complete with a huge clock as the stage’s centerpiece, John Rensel’s evocative lighting, John Riechers’ wonderfully eye-catching projection design, and Jay Brunner’s expert sound design featuring tunes by Gilbert and Sullivan which set the proper mood, tone and period.
You have until March 17 to catch this excellent adventure. Don’t miss it!
Around the World in 80 Days continues through March 17 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St, Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, and 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Act One: 85 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Cost: $14-$52. Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more. Student tickets are available at 50 percent off regular adult prices and a student ID must be presented when picking up tickets at the box office. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com