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  • Michael A. Jones / The Sacramento Bee

    The 2004 B Street staging of “Around the World in Eighty Days” featured, from left, Amy Resnick, Michael Stevenson and Elisabeth Nunziato. All are reprising their roles for the tour.

  • Gerald Montoya

    “Around the World in 80 Days” is traveling to India. B Street’s production features, from left, Greg Alexander as Detective Fix, Dave Pierini as Mudge and Michael Stevenson as Phileas Fogg.

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Theater: B Street’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ heads to India

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 - 12:00 am

There’s some sort of kismet in B Street Theatre taking its “Around the World in 80 Days” on its first international tour.

While it won’t be playing in theaters around the globe, B Street is scheduled for three performances in three Indian cities. It should take the nine-person company more than 16 hours of travel to reach to their first stop in Mumbai. They’ll also play in the cities of Kochi and Ahmednagar on the two-week trip, which kicks off Monday.

This week, the company performs the show in Sacramento on its B 3 stage to prepare for the adventure.

“This has been something I’ve been working on for five years,” said producing artistic director Buck Busfield, whose wife, Mehera, is Indian and travels to the country annually.

Busfield said he had initially tried to generate touring interest in the B Street production of Kenneth Lonergan’s darkly layered “Lobby Hero,” a favorite dramatic production of his that starred company veterans Kurt Johnson and Dana Brooke. However, he couldn’t persuade any of the Indian theater people he knew to get behind the project.

“They just couldn’t make it happen – either they didn’t want to or they didn’t think it was feasible, but they just didn’t respond positively,” Busfield said.

Then, two years ago, Busfield met Indian producers from the Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre, an international performing arts presenter that not only mounts its own shows but specializes in bringing outside productions and touring them throughout the country.

Busfield pitched “Lobby Hero” again and got nowhere. But when he told them about Mark Brown’s broadly performed satire “Around the World in 80 Days,” they were all in.

The $30,000 trip is being financed through donations to the theater and this week’s preview shows. Profits from the Indian performances will benefit the Choice School and Choice Foundation, an Indian charity that builds schools and creates educational enrichment for students.

“80 Days” has been one of B Street’s most successful productions. The company has mounted the play two times in the past decade, extending one of its runs due to its popularity with audiences.

The clever retelling of Jules Verne’s 1873 adventure novel uses minimal props and scenery, but it requires versatile, expert performers. Five actors portray 39 characters, and the B Street production features some of the acting company’s most highly regarded players.

Michael Stevenson plays Phileas Fogg, the intrepid Englishman who accepts a 20,000-pound wager from members of his social club that he cannot circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. With Amy Resnick as his exuberant new French valet, Passepartout, Fogg sets off on his whirlwind world tour, which has built-in suspense of the looming time frame.

For the India trip, Busfield has assembled a cast from previous productions that includes Dave Pierini, Greg Alexander and Elisabeth Nunziato. Accompanying the actors is Buck’s nephew Willy Busfield, who provides the live sound effects; B Street associate producer Jerry Montoya, who will stage-manage the production; and B Street company member Jason Kuykendall, who will understudy all the roles and also record a video diary of the trip.

Planning and organizing the tour has been “a challenge,” Busfield said. “Because we’re playing in three different venues of different sizes ... we have to be so flexible in staging that we can adapt to circumstances the day of the performance. But we have the actors to do that.”

First stop is Mumbai’s prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts. Then the production flies north to the city of Kochi on the Arabian Sea. The last performance is in Ahmednagar on the Deccan Plateau.

Communication can be a complex enterprise in India, home to more than 30 languages. Hindi is most commonly spoken and English is also widely used. Busfield said that theater listings in Mumbai give the language spoken in the play as part of the basic information.

More than the production being understood, Busfield said, he wonders how it will play with the local audiences.

“There’s lot of caricatures in this, so we’re curious to see how that’s going to go,” Busfield said. “And a good portion of the play takes place in India. They lampoon the hell out the British, which is always an easy go-to laugh in India.”

Stevenson, who’s never offstage as the unflappable Fogg, said he thought the show’s humor would translate and that audiences were already showing interest.

“We’re going to play a 1,000-seat house our first show, and it’s almost sold out,” Stevenson said. “Will the same jokes play and will the same romance play over there? I think so because they have the Bollywood film scene.

“But I don’t know what their stage culture is, so there’s a little bit of suspense that way,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson, like Busfield, said he takes comfort – and finds confidence – in the group of people with whom he’s working and traveling.

“I’ve known most of these guys for 17 years,” Stevenson said. “This is the third time in a decade that we’re doing this show and we all know each other so well.

“We’ve done a zillion other shows together, so that is the huge safety net that we fall into.”

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

WHAT: B Street Theatre reprises its hit show before setting off on a tour of three Indian cities. Danger, romance and comic surprises abound in this whirlwind production, as five actors portray 39 characters in Mark Brown’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 adventure novel.

WHEN: Runs today through Saturday. 7 p.m. today-Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday.

COST: $40 today-Thursday (preview); $80 Friday and Saturday (special food and bon voyage party).

WHERE: B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2727 B St., Sacramento

INFORMATION: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org

RELATED LINK: Your headquarters to local theater


Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.

Read more articles by Marcus Crowder



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