If you're wondering how Delaware Theatre Company's production of
Around the World in 80 Days
manages to get that iconic hot-air balloon up and running, wonder no more: They don't.
That's right. Despite David Niven's 1956 quintuple-Oscar winning, three-hour-long cinematic flight, Mark Brown's script doesn't call for a balloon, and you know why? Because Jules Verne's book didn't have one, either (although its inclusion in the film is probably tied to an earlier Verne adventure tale, "Five Weeks in a Balloon").
Not that you'd miss it, anyway. Brown stays faithful to his source material - essentially, a travelogue of unflappable Englishman Phileas Fogg's journey, on a bet, to traverse the globe accompanied by his faithful and quite flappable French servant, Passepartout - but allows plenty of latitude (and longitude) for in-house creativity.
It's good news for audiences that the team assembled for this task is studded with some of Philly's finest resident actors, and has as its director a capable Philly alumnus, former Arden Theatre cofounder Aaron Posner.
While Greg Wood holds tight as "phlegmatic" Fogg, and James Ijames puts an earnest and winning face on Passepartout (though his French accent is only comme çi, comme ça), Benjamin Lloyd and Dan Hodge run circles (sometimes literally) around them in a multitude of roles. Hodge's bumbling British Detective Fix, determined to reveal Fogg as a bank-robbing scoundrel, borrows more from Clouseau than Holmes, and short, stout Lloyd gets to zip around in everything from full English cavalry dress to a Chinese peasant's hat and silks. Farah Bala has less to do as Aouda, the rescued Indian princess, but at least, thanks to Brown, she sees more action than Verne allowed her.
Posner's pacing also earns top billing here. He's not afraid to go madcap, and frequently does, but it's never exhausting, and when it's time to slow down, say, to take in a moonlit seafaring evening between Fogg and Aouda, he makes the moment last. Brian Sidney Bembridge's set also follows Verne in its simplicity, choosing Fogg's single-minded point of view, rather than fussing things up with images of famous international landmarks or bustling seaports.
The journey happens on a plain, circular wooden platform, surrounded by piles of baggage, embellished only by action and a few small props. It's as good an invitation as any for parents to pick up the novel with their children before or after seeing the show, and let their imaginations fill in where the production left off.
Through Dec. 19 at the Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water St., Wilmington, Del. Tickets: $35-$49. Information: 302-594-1107, www.delawaretheatre.org.