Friday, May 28, 2010

There's More Than A Slight Hitch in 'The 39 Steps'

Theater Review

The 39 Steps
Bank of America Theatre
Thru May 30, 2010

I'm not really sure how to define the stage version of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

It's not a musical, but also doesn't fit most expectations of a traditional play. It's fairly faithful to the old suspense flick, but is more a comedy than a drama. It has a number of slapstick elements, but isn't a farce. It has clear reverence for Hitchcock, but substitutes laughs for any of his trademark tension.

But whatever it is, the show that uses only 4 performers to act out over a dozen roles, works. And it does so surprisingly well on multiple levels.

At times it is laugh-out-loud funny. While intentionally depleted of much Hitchcockian suspense, it does qualify as a sufficient mystery, particularly for those unfamiliar with the film. The three actors and one actress all do yeoman's work. The sparse staging is actually used as a benefit, not a weakness. And for fans of Alfred, The 39 Steps also cheekily references--albeit anachronistically--Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Lady Vanishes and perhaps a few other Hitchcock films that I missed or forgot.

Although I liked it very much, I'm sure my appreciation would've been even greater in a smaller venue, rather in trying to discern the variety of British and Scottish accents from the balcony of the Bank of America (nee Shubert) Theater. And numerous latecomers, people chattering next to me and at least one ringing cell phone didn't help either.

While I wouldn't call it enlightening, enriching or likely even extremely memorable--and therefore probably not  a "must-see,"--in terms of an entertaining night at the theater, The 39 Steps was definitely far more up than down.

This is a clip of a memorable scene, from the Broadway version.

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