Step right this way towards The DuPont Theatre for an hour and forty-five minutes of a fast, fun, family friendly romp on Alfred Hitchcock's, The 39 Steps. Four actors valiantly reenact Hitchcock's 1935 British thriller film (originally starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll) based on the novel, The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan.
It's 1935, our hero Richard Hannay is bored and fed up with the paper which is filled with doom and gloom and impending war. So he decides to do something totally frivolous. He'll go to the theater! And while at a London music hall show where Mr. Memory demonstrates his amazing powers of recall, shots are fired. Hannay ends up aiding Annabella Schmidt, a spy being pursued by assassins, because she has uncovered a plot to steal British military secrets. Hannay takes her to his flat where during the middle of the night she is mysteriously murdered. Our hero flees the country in an attempt to save himself from her pursuers. On the run from not only the police, for this murder, but from a team of assassins, Hannay meets a zany cast of characters in his whirlwind adventure to discover the meaning of the "39 steps".
Don't go expecting pathos or bathos or catharsis. Do expect an evening of unmitigated hilarity, because it's all played for the laugh. In this world -- jokes are like buses. If you didn't get the last one, wait, wait, there's another one 'round the corner. Like a boot camp for actors with director, Maria Aitken cracking the whip, the production borrows from Vaudeville, Music Hall, British Panto, Commedia and camp. There's the double take, the triple take, the hat trick, the coat trick, and the "How did they ever do that!" trick. Choreographed to the nth degree, it has been described by actor Ted Deasy as being more like a dance than a play. During rehearsals he lost 20 pounds, and probably loses one or two during each performance. Don't worry, nobody does any pirouettes - but there are comedic bits that are so precisely timed that the trick for the actor is to try and keep it fresh every night. Deasy, who plays Richard Hannay, the quintessential Hitchcock hero, is essentially the straight man of the piece and the only actor who doesn't play other roles. His job is to be tall, handsome and react to the ludicrous proceedings while keeping a straight face - a monumental feat of fortitude. Claire Brownell plays Annabella Schmidt, a Mata Hari spy with a ridiculous middle European accent, the farmer's young, pigtailed wife Margaret and the sophisticated Pamela and Ms. Brownell makes each role distinctively funny in its own way. Eric Hissom as Man #1 and Scott Parkinson as Man #2 play every other role that's needed to tell the story. This includes the female roles as well, such as the Professor's wife and the Scottish innkeeper's wife. Now they may put wigs and dresses on - but they keep their black socks and garters on at the same time -which is just plain silly. These two "clowns" do most of the heavy lifting here - and I don't just mean the furniture - because they do that too. According to Deasy, all the actors are incredibly interdependent upon one another. And you can see why. These four actors move most of the set pieces and all of the props and costumes It's sort of like a trapeze act. If your partner's not there to catch you - oops! The tour travels with two dressers and picks up three in every city they stop in. That's three costume people who have to learn the show at 6:00 every new opening night.
A few trunks, an armchair and an armoire get transformed from a living room to a train, to an inn, to a lecture hall. It's like an actor's game. How can you use this set piece or this prop? The economy of the whole production should be applauded. But you'll be applauding the cast who right now are probably four of the hardest working actors in show biz. I guess that doesn't count the four who are now playing the same show Off Broadway at New World Stages, Stage One in New York. This National Tour will be going next to ASU Gammage in Tempe, Alabama, April 20 - 25, then on to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, April 27 - May 16, to Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, IL May 18-30 and then back to this neck of the woods in June 1-13 at the Hippodrome Theatre, Baltimore, MD.