Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the 1939 Alfred Hitchcock film and the novel by John Buchan, the theatrical adaptation of The 39 Steps won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best Comedy for its U.K. production, followed by a two-year run on Broadway and two Off-Broadway stints. The plot of the play, just like the film and novel, centers on Richard Hannay, a man falsely accused of a murder who seeks to prove his innocence as he flees across the English and Scottish countryside with the police and the real killer on his trail.
While the novel and film were presented as serious thrillers, the stage version is played for laughs, with three members of the four person cast playing dozens of characters, sometimes switching quickly between roles within a few seconds of each other, which adds to the hilarity. Under Dave Dietlein's astute direction, the small cast, along with minimal sets, costumes and props, injects the production with a huge shot of theatricality as they, along with the audience's imagination, swiftly create not only dozens of characters but also the numerous locations in the plot.
Fans of the film know that there are numerous chase scenes and escapes that Hitchcock masterfully depicted on screen, including some in cars, on a train, and even on an airplane. An added intriguing element in the stage production is for the audience to see how these moments are portrayed on stage. For example, using only some boxes, sound effects, and lighting, Dietlein and his cast skillfully create a chase on top of a train.
Rob Stuart evokes the perfect combination of charisma, manners, elegance and charm to depict Hannay as a proper English gentleman, though one with a constantly frenzied demeanor due to always being on the run. As the three women Hannay meets on his journey, Alaina Beauloye efficiently uses various accents, wigs, and a change in her body language to morph from one to the next. David Michael Paul and Jere Van Patten are hilarious as they use a non-stop parade of costumes, wigs and accents to play all the other characters in the show. The scenes on the train and in the hotel where Paul and Van Patten quickly change from one character to the next are fast paced and skillfully done.
Unlike other productions of this play I've seen, Hale has added an onstage foley artist who provides live sound effects throughout; Kyle Webb masterfully delivers an abundance of fun effects and even finds himself humorously pulled into the action onstage.
The production's creative aspects are sublime. Brian Daily's set pieces may be slight, but when combined with Tim Dietlein's gorgeous lighting, which uses an abundance of shadows and rich colors, the period perfect costumes by Tia Hawkes, and the fun wigs and makeup contributions from Cambrian James, the end result is both a loving homage and a spoof of a suspense film. The theme of an innocent man accused of a murder who must prove his own innocence is one that Hitchcock revisited many times over his illustrious career, in such films as North by Northwest and Saboteur, and the musical underscore for the play uses many musical themes from Hitchcock's films, especially the love them from Vertigo. There are also several fun moments in the production that pay tribute to Hitchcock's famous films and which the creative team has provided some excellent contributions (Daily's menacing birds and an attacking airplane are hilarious.)
With a winning cast, excellent creative aspects, and moments of pure insanity, the stage version of The 39 Steps is a humorous love letter to the master of suspense. Fans of Hitchcock, thrillers, and suspense films or anyone who appreciates a good comic spoof will surely find much to love with Hale's production.
Hale has implemented many safety protocols for this production, in line with both city and state requirements, including limiting the audience capacity, socially distanced seating, and requiring masks to be worn by all audience members. A list of all safety requirements can be found on their website.
The 39 Steps runs through November 21, 2020, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein