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Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps"
a Comedy
by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan

COMPANY : Atlanta Broadway Series
VENUE : Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3598

SHOWING : December 01, 2009 - December 06, 2009



Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have...(mystery chords!) THE 39 STEPS, Broadway's most intriguing, most thrilling, most riotous, most UNMISSABLE comedy smash! The mind-blowing cast of 4 plays over 150 characters in this fast-paced tale of an ordinary man on an extraordinarily entertaining adventure. WINNER! 2 TONY AWARDS® ! HILARIOUS FUN FOR THEATRE-LOVERS OF ALL AGES!

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The Hannay Hitch
by Dedalus
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Night. London. Fog. Danger. Richard Hannay goes to the theatre, meets a mysterious femme fatale who is soon fatale’d in his flat, and is embarked on an adventure featuring spies, violence, trains, and Scotsmen. The police think he’s a murderer. And the clock is ticking.

Those of you versed in the works of Alfred Hitchcock will recognize the set-up of his classic 1935 thriller, “The 39 Steps,” based in turn on John Buchan’s 1915 novel. But, Hitchcock fans will have to reign in their outrage, as Patrick Barlow’s 2006 stage adaptation places tongue firmly in music-hall cheek, and creates a giddily entertaining biggest-ham-takes-all romp, asking four actors to play all fourteen-gazillion roles with just a few scraps of scenery and costumes, and whole lot of chutzpah and energy.

This show, in a nutshell, is one of the most entertaining works you’re likely to see in this or any other year. Keeping the bare bones of the Buchan/Hitchcock story (innocent man accused of murder must crack a nasty spy ring to save his name and the girl), this production dishes out whirlwind character change, wry backstage buffoonery, dizzying word-play, mega-charm and tons of stage fog. To calm down the Hitchcockophiles, passing references to his other films are tossed out liberally, with even the famous Hitchcock cameo making a welcome appearance. Most of the references are underscored with a nudge-nudge wink-wink to the audience, but a few are just casually dropped as visual (or musical) jokes or fleeting references.

It’s been said that Buchan’s Richard Hannay novels (there were five, as well as a few stories and cameos by the character in other works) provided the template for the modern spy novel, and writers from Ian Fleming to Robert Ludlum have freely acknowledged the debt. So, of course, it’s appropriate that “AHT39S” takes every opportunity to skewer the clichés that come with the genre, including frequent references to the hero’s rakish good looks (and hazel eyes), shady characters with outrageously thick accents, villains with deformities and maniacal laughs, and even the old standby, a conveniently placed hymnal stopping a bullet (“Some of those hymns are very hard to get through”).

The true appeal of this piece, though, is the breath-takingly fast and numerous character switches by the two-man protean ensemble, Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson. In one sequence, the two of them play six characters in a single scene, switching characters with a flip of a hat, a slump of a shoulder, a shift of a dialect. (Part of the joke is they are allowed to miss, to put on the wrong hat or the wrong accent at the wrong time.) In another scene, one gets to wear two costumes at once, literally having a conversation with himself.

Centering it all is Ted Deasy’s single performance as Richard Hannay. On stage for almost the entire play, he has the unenviable task of carrying the plot, refereeing the ensemble, setting the bar for “how over-the-top can we take this?” and making us care enough that we want to know how his story turns out. The fourth member of the troupe, Claire Brownell, has the relatively relaxed job of portraying only three women, the femme fatale at the top, the love interest, and a comely and helpful Scottish farmwife. All are excellent and engaging, with nary a wrong note or questionable choice.

Maria Aitken’s direction is full of backstage jokes, affection for the Music Hall tradition that is the stylistic forbearer of this piece, and attention to detail and pace. The energy never flags for an instant. Scene shifts are accomplished through rearranging trunks, or diving head-long onto chairs thrown in from the wings, and turning door and window units to follow characters into and out of rooms. Shadow and Puppet sequences give the illusion of big-budget spectacle without needing an actual big budget, and any artificial voice amplification is kept subtle and undetectable (the press kit tells us that body mikes are impractical, owing to the fast and numerous costume changes).

“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” will be at the Cobb Energy Center until December 6, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is by far the best touring production of the year, and I sat for the entire show just staring at the stage with a big goofy grin on my face. I predict this will be a mainstay of regional and community theatres for years to come (small cast, inexpensive to mount, and entertaining as a puppy with a squirrel doll), and, I suspect, it’ll be one of those ”This never grows old” pieces we all know and love.

So what exactly are “The 39 Steps?” If I tell you, I’ll have to shoot you. 39 times! Wearing 39 different costumes!

-- Brad Rudy (



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