“Around the World”
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Orson Welles, based on the novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” by Jules Verne, with additional contributions by Dick Vosburgh
Presented by Lost Musicals
Orson Welles / Inspector Fix / Coolie – Jack Klaff
Jevity / Arab Spy 1 / Indian Train Conductor / Japanese Man / Circus Owner / Lola / Stagecoach Driver / Jake / Speedy – Michael Roberts
Molly Muggins – Valda Aviks
Pat Passepartout – Bryan Torfeh
Phileas Fogg – Peter Gale
Runcible / British Consul / Old Hindu / Madam Liang / Station Master / Train Conductor / Indian / Engineer / Hansom Cab Driver – Richard Stemp
Cruett-Spew / Arab Spy 2 / Medicine Man / Marine Captain – Peter Kenworthy
Mrs Aouda – Valerie Cutko
Steven Edis – Music Director
Ian Marshall Fisher – Director
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 17 June, 2007
Venue: Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, Islington, London
For over 17 years Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals series has brought to our attention the neglected works of often famous composers, librettists and lyricists (mostly American) that have not received productions in London or are rarely produced or have never been made into films. The shows are presented in evening dress with no props and no scenery and with actors reading from scripts. The idea has generally proved to be a sell-out success. The work of Cole Porter has figured in past Lost Musicals presentations with such shows as “Fifty million Frenchmen”, “Nymph Errant”, “Dubarry was a Lady”, “Out of this World”, “Can-Can” and “Silk Stockings”. Although those particular shows are rarely if ever seen now in the UK, at least we know the songs that came out of them.
“Around the World” is a completely unknown entity as it has not been seen or heard of since it closed on Broadway after only 75 performances on 3 August 1946. As far as we know none of the songs has ever been recorded. It has taken Ian Marshall Fisher some three years to track down the original script and score and now it is playing for just five Sunday performances at the Lilian Baylis Theatre in Islington.
When you have three big egos such as Orson Welles, Cole Porter and producer Mike Todd involved in a single project, then you’ve got trouble with a capital T. But mainly you have the trouble that is Orson Welles. Soon after the project got underway Mike Todd bowed out, but ten years later he made an Oscar-winning film out of Jules Verne’s book and successfully staged many more Broadway shows before getting into big-screen entertainment processes with Cinerama and Todd-AO. When Todd left the project Welles asked Harry Cohn, President of Columbia Pictures, to lend him the money for “Around the World” on a promise of making a film for him for nothing – “The Lady from Shanghai” with Welles’s then wife Rita Hayworth.
Anyway, the show went on and opened out of town, playing a week each in Boston, New Haven and Philadelphia. Now, Welles was not only writer and director but also insisted on appearing in it. At the time he was not popular with the press and they were ready to slaughter him. Hence the run of only 75 performances and the fact that Welles had over 60 people on stage, plus a full orchestra. He would have been far better off doing a simpler version with just a cast of eight as Ian Marshall Fisher has done here.
The Lost Musicals staging actually works very well with many of the performers doubling up like mad and to hilarious effect. Peter Gale is a very dapper Phileas Fogg, Verne’s hero who, for a bet with his club cronies, attempts to go around the world in just eighty days. His companion Passepartout turns out be Irish-American in this version and called Pat, a role that Bryan Torfeh savours with relish. In another strand of the story, Pat’s girlfriend Molly Muggins (Valda Aviks) pursues them. Jack Klaff plays Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard who is also following the travellers in order to arrest Fogg on a mistaken charge. Klaff also appears as the Orson Welles narrator figure.
Welles being Welles also had some silent-film footage made to set the scene. The late Dick Vosburgh reinterpreted a narrative for the storyteller. Valerie Cutko plays Mrs Aouda, the Indian widow who Fogg rescues from being burnt alive with her husband’s corpse. She gets the best of the rather forgettable Porter songs, ‘Should I tell you I love you?’ Other songs you won’t have heard include ‘Look what I found’, ‘Pipe dreaming’ and ‘Wherever they fly the flag of old England’. ‘There he goes, Mr Phileas Fogg’ stretches Porter’s usual easy way with a rhyme to bursting point with “There he goes, the smart Mister Phileas / In his clo’es so Picca-dicca-dilly-ous / What a dude, what a dapper old dog! / There he goes, Mister Phileas Fogg.”
However, it is mainly all the smaller parts that bring so much joy and entertainment to this production. Michael Roberts manages to play a John Wayne-type stagecoach-driver and a nightclub-owner called Lola — based very much on Marlene Dietrich – in practically the same breath, while Richard Stemp is not only an Old Hindu, a Station Master, a Train Conductor, an Engineer, an Indian and a Hansom Cab Driver, but he also throws in another cameo as the exotic Madam Liang. There are no circuses and no elephants, no dancers or aerialists, no clowns or snake-charmers, as dictated by the original script, just an imaginative reinterpretation of a flop musical epic reproduced on a much smaller scale that is surely every bit as entertaining as the original was over the top.
- Around the World plays on Sundays at 4 p.m. until 8 July at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1
- Booking on 0870 737 7737
- Lost Musicals