It takes a special show and a particularly wonderful character to take Steve Leifer out of the realm of musical theater, and “Around the World in 80 Days” and Phileas Fogg are just that.
“About 90 percent of the stuff I do are musicals, but I was intrigued by the complexity of the character of Phileas Fogg, and this is a very, very entertaining show,” said Leifer, who heads a cast of five in Mark Brown’s 2001 play, “Around the World in 80 Days,” beginning Saturday night at the Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and running through May 10.
‘Around the World in 80 Days’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Loudon Rd., Latham
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m., Friday, through May 10
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 877-7529
“My wife saw a regional production a couple of years ago and she told me it was wonderful. So, when I heard that Curtain Call put it on their schedule, I was eager to give it a shot.”
Leifer is the only member of the cast not playing multiple characters. The rest, Monica Cangero, Carter Harris, Jack Fallon and Joe Russo handle the remaining 38 characters Brown put into his script when he adapted Jules Verne’s 1873 book.
“This is a wild play, and we’re having a lot of fun with it,” said Steve Fletcher, who is directing the production. “It’s a lot of work and we always feel like we’re under the gun here, but somehow everything seems to get done in the end. The magic still works.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” tells the story of a wealthy English gentleman set in his ways; Fogg, who, along with his valet Passepartout, plans to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Fogg, with the opening of a new railroad line in India, thinks he can do it, while his friends at the club he frequents, say he can’t. He leaves London at 8:45 p.m., on Oct. 2, 1872, and is due back 80 days later, on Dec. 21.
Verne’s novel has been adapted many times in many different mediums, the most popular probably the 1956 movie version with David Niven as Fogg. Orson Welles and Cole Porter collaborated on a musical version in 1946 that flopped, there was a 1989 TV miniseries with Pierce Brosnan, a 2004 movie with Jackie Chan as Passepartout, and a brand new musical version by Julianne Homokay and Ron Barnett that opened in regional theaters last year.
Fogg’s love interest in the story is Aouda, played by Monica Cangero, who was Leifer’s wife in a Curtain Call production of “Noises Off” last year.
“Monica is my leading lady again, and she is very easy to work with,” said Leifer. “She’s the only lady in the play, and like everyone but me, she’s playing a lot of different characters. That sounds like a lot of fun, but Phileas is always on stage, so I can only play him. I’ve seen the movie a number of times and I have to acknowledge David Niven as an influence. But the biggest influence was the script itself, and I’m trying to find stuff in the script that all these other actors may have skipped over.”
For Cangero, a math teacher at Hoosic Valley High School, the chance to play multiple characters was too good to pass up.
“I mostly play Aouda, but I also get to play a newspaperman, a servant who gets fired, and I’m a bit of a narrator,” said Cangero. “It’s such a fun show, and we get the opportunity to create all these characters and take them around the world. I have never seen the movie, but I knew the story and it’s been every bit as fun as I thought it would be.”
Leifer, a state worker who lives in East Greenbush, grew up in Brooklyn. He has been involved in community theater for quite some time, getting his first role back in college.
“A friend of a housemate was looking for someone to fill a role, so I did it and I got a great response,” said Leifer. “Once the bug bites, it bites you for good. In the years that followed I saw a lot of great shows on Broadway, and when I moved to the Capital District I found out that I could perform in these same great shows, mostly musicals, that I had seen in New York. I’ve had wonderful experiences playing a variety of characters.”
Cangero, a Long Island native, went to Hofstra University for theater and did spend some time working in the business in New York.
“I tried New York for a while, and it’s a tough road to go down,” said Cangero, who married and headed upstate where she got her masters degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “When I was in high school I wanted to be an engineer, but my theater dreams won out, for a while anyway.”
Cangero began teaching at Hoosic Valley in 1990 and for a few years was head of the school’s drama club.
“I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was,” she said. “I’d been telling all these kids how to act for years, so I decided I’d better get back into it myself.”
Cangero initially landed a gig with the Theater Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, and in the past few years has become a semi-regular at Curtain Call.
“I really, really enjoy it, and I have a standing agreement with my husband,” said Cangero. “He flies planes and gliders on the weekend, and I act. I’ll go up in a glider when he gets up on stage.”
“Around the World in 80 Days” is just Leifer’s second piece of work at Curtain Call, but he hopes to become, like Cangero, a semi-regular.
“It’s a great environment for actors to work in and explore a character,” he said. “I especially like the fact that they have long runs. After five weeks you’ve had a chance to fully explore your character, and get all the timing nice and polished. It’s great fun.”
According to Fletcher, Leifer didn’t have to work real hard to nail down Phileas Fogg.
“He’s got a deep, resonant voice and this very solid presence,” Fletcher said of Leifer. “He’s got that British manner down very well.”