EmptyLilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London
(Through July 8)
Orson Welles conceived his musical version of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" as a theatrical spectacular. With songs by Cole Porter and a stage filled with magicians, tumblers and fireworks, it debuted at the Adelphi Theatre in New York on May 31, 1946, but ran for just 75 performances. The wittily staged Lost Musicals concert presentation of the show at London's Sadler's Wells lacks the pyrotechnics and razzmatazz, but it provides a tantalizing impression of what the prodigiously talented Welles had in mind.
Director Ian Marshall Fisher, who founded Lost Musicals in 1989 with the aim of presenting to British audiences the lesser-known works of major American writers, provides the background to "Around the World" before introducing eight singers and a pianist who perform the songs and act out cleverly contrived scenes to tell the story.
Welles shot a series of silent movies to provide exposition for some of the more exotic spots on Phileas Fogg's fabled journey around the globe, and in their absence Jack Klaff, as Welles, describes each one from a script provided by the late Dick Vosburgh.
In his own production, Welles played Inspector Fix, the dogged Scotland Yard policeman who trails Fogg on his trek in the mistaken belief that the fastidious gentleman has obtained the large quantity of cash he carries from a bank robbery. Klaff plays Fix, too, as well as several shady ethnic characters that the inspector ineffectually impersonates.
The eight cast members -- six men and two women -- sit onstage, standing up to perform the musical numbers and act out the story to the accompaniment of Steven Edis on piano. Bryan Torfeh makes a believable Passepartout, who, unlike the Mexican Cantinflas in the 1956 film version, is an American sailor who has missed his boat and signs on as Fogg's manservant. He is matched by Valda Aviks, as Passepartout's faithful squeeze Molly Muggins, and Valerie Cutko, as the Indian widow Missus Aouda, who falls for Fogg. Michael Roberts, Richard Stemp and Peter Kenworthy play the rest of the roles, male and female, to splendidly amusing effect.
"Around the World" has not been performed since its 1946 run, and that's really no mystery. Welles' star power sold the show originally along with his hugely ambitious onstage stunts that frequently didn't work. Porter's songs are not his greatest, though the ballads "Should I Tell You I Love You" and "Look What I Have Found" certainly are hummable. There's a couple of novelty songs, "Snag Tooth Gertie" and "Whenever They Fly the Flag of Old England." And the songwriter's lyrical skill extends to finding a rhyme for Fogg's first name: "That smart Mr. Phileas, so Piccadilly-dillyous." But Porter wrote "Kiss Me Kate" the next year, and the songs from "Around the World" were soon forgotten. It's great fun that Lost Musicals has brought them back for a revival, however brief.
AROUND THE WORLD
Presented by Lost Musicals
Credits: Music-lyrics: Cole Porter; Book: Orson Welles; Silent Screen movie dialogue: Dick Vosburgh; Director: Ian Marshall Fisher; Music director: Steven Edis. Cast: Orson Welles/Inspector Fix: Jack Klaff; Phileas Fogg: Peter Gale; Pat Passepartout: Bryan Torfeh; Missus Aouda: Valerie Cutko; Molly Muggins: Valda Aviks; Jevity/Lola/others: Michael Roberts; Runcible/Madame Liang/others: Richard Stemp; Cruett-Spew/Arab Spy/
others: Peter Kenworthy.