Long before fleets of cruise ships and tour buses roamed the Earth, most people could only imagine travelling to far off, exotic places.  Author Jules Verne helped fuel those imaginations with a series of popular books including the one called “Around the World in 80 Days.”

The Public Theatre of Lewiston has opened its 21st season with Mark Brown’s 2001 stage adaptation of Verne’s famous travel adventure.  In Brown’s version, the “Days” of the title could easily be replaced with the word “Gags” as this show is as much about comedy as it is about fast-paced adventure.

Director Janet Mitchko, staff and cast have impressively put together a laugh-filled, light entertainment.  Why not start the season off with a comical road trip?

As in “The 39 Steps,” which has been making the rounds of local theaters recently, “Around the World” employs a small number of actors in a  large variety of roles. The professional cast is required to throw itself into numerous, often stereotyped, characterizations with corresponding accent and costume changes.  Robin Bloodworth, David Mason, Michael Frederic, Audra Wahhab and Dan Matisa worked hard but appeared to have a lot of fun in doing so at Friday’s opening.  Reminiscent, at times, of the skits on the classic Carol Burnett Show, the performers shared asides to the audience, mutual crack-ups and seeming ad-libs along the way.

Monty Python and Benny Hill are also comic references that came to mind as bumbling detectives, fussy customs officials, wacky judges, blustery sea captains, stuffy Brits and macho Americans are encountered by Phileas Fogg (Bloodworth) when he seeks to win a bet that he can circumnavigate the world by train, boat and elephant (no balloon for this version) in a record time – by 19th-century standards.

The on-the-move segments are brought to theatrical life through sound effects and imaginative choreography of a sort that mimics the jostle and roll of life in motion.

Though, at nearly 2 1/2 hours, perhaps running just a bit too long for this type of show, the opening performance delivered a world of laughs to a large, multigenerational crowd who appeared to very much enjoy it.
 
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.