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Over-the-top performances make ’80 Days’ a hilarious trip

  • PHOTO COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
    Kevin Keaveney, in back, portrays Phileas Fogg, and Mathias Mass, in front, plays Passepartout in Manoa Valley Theatre's "Around the World in 80 Days."
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Circumnavigating the world in 80 days was a radical concept when Jules Verne’s epic novel "Around the World in 80 Days" was published in 1873. Mike Todd presented Verne’s story in equally epic style in 1956 as a three-hour, 70 mm film starring David Niven as unflappable English gentleman Phileas Fogg, Cantinflas as Fogg’s French valet, Passepartout, and dozens of Hollywood stars in cameo roles.

Manoa Valley Theatre’s production of playwright Mark Brown’s adaptation of Verne’s classic runs almost as long as Todd’s Academy Award-winning film and includes one cameo — by Satan, the cat first seen at MVT two years ago in "Gutenberg! The Musical!"

As adapted by Brown and directed by Elitei Tatafu Jr., Verne’s epic tale of adventure, romance and self-discovery is played almost entirely as a comic farce.

‘AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS’

» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road

» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 30

» Cost: $30, $25 (seniors and military), $15 (25 and younger)

» Info: 988-6131, www.manoavalleytheatre.com

The welcome exceptions are Kevin Keaveney and Jocelyn Ishihara. Keaveney plays Fogg with the stiff upper lip and unfailing self-confidence of a traditional English gentleman. Ishihara is an appealing romantic lead as Princess Aouda. Beyond that the show is a circus of over-the-top performances, exaggerated characterization, bizarre accents and assorted anachronisms.

For instance, Fogg and Aouda are on a ship. Up comes the unmistakable melody of "My Heart Will Go On," and Aouda walks to the bow of the ship and thrusts her arms out just like Kate Winslet in "Titanic."

Mathias Maas camps it up playing Passepartout as a stereotypical cartoon Frenchman. Shawn Anthony Thomsen chews the scenery to shreds as bumbling Detective Fix. Benjamin MacKrell joins Ishihara, Maas and Thomsen in playing several dozen tertiary characters as the action traverses four continents.

The premise is simple: Fogg wagers a large sum that he can go around the world in 80 days. Fix thinks that Fogg is a fugitive bank robber and tries to impede his progress long enough for an arrest warrant to arrive from England. When Fogg’s odyssey takes him outside the jurisdiction of British law, the detective then assists Fogg’s return to England so he can arrest him there.

It’s a testament to Tatafu’s skill as a director that the tension builds in Act 2 even though most people know how the story ends.

The technical presentation is delightful. James Davenport (set design/scenic artist) gives the cast an eye-catching performance space; various components become ships, locomotives, an elephant and a manapua factory. Daniel Anteau (lighting design) has an essential role in one long-running comic bit. Greg Howell (hair and makeup design) and Dusty Behner (costume design) use a thrift shop’s worth of clothing, wigs and mustaches to define the numerous supporting characters. Sara Ward (props) adds eye-catching embellishments as well — a large manapua, for one.

Tatafu ups the comic content with sight gags: A stagehand throws a handful of stage snow on a character in one scene. In another a seasick character vomits in his hat several times and then, as the scene is ending, puts the hat on his head.

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