Friday, November 13, 2009

Better Late Than Never

The 39 Steps is one of those shows that I somehow hadn't seen yet until Tuesday night, even though it's been open for almost two years. I was finally able to see what I was missing at the 700th performance, a remarkable accomplishment for a play with no major stars or many awards (it was nominated for a best play Tony and didn't win, but it did win best lighting and sound design). By the time the play closes on January 10, it will be the longest-running play on Broadway in seven years. It has outlasted Pulitzer and Tony-winning August: Osage County and has survived two changes of theater (it initially played the American Airlines before transferring to the Cort until finally making it to the Helen Hayes). There is unconfirmed talk of a transfer to off-Broadway.

The play is, as you probably know, a spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps, and there are Hitchcock references for both the casual and die-hard fans. Richard Hannay's (Sean Mahon) boring life is changed when he goes to the theater, meets spy Annabella Schmidt (Jill Paice), and gets caught up with a mysterious organizations called The 39 Steps. Paice also plays two other woman Hannay meets in his adventure, Pamela and Margaret. Arnie Burton and Jeffrey Kuhn, the true stars of this production, play everyone else. The humor comes from their rapid changing of characters, accents, and costumes (a change of hat can signal a new character) as well as the use of minimal props to recreate iconic scenes like the chase on top of a train. Maria Aitken directs the fast-paced action to look spontaneous despite the fact that it is well-choreographed (Toby Sedgwick and Christopher Bayes are credited with original and additional movement). All this makes for a zany night of theater that may not be life-changing, but it sure is fun.

The performance was followed by a talkback, part of the Talkback Tuesdays series. The talkbacks offer an added bonus of inside stories from the actors (the night I attended, humorist Kate Clinton moderated a dialogue with Mahon and Paice). Plus, as the play is not quite two hours, you can stay for the talkback and still be home at a reasonable hour.
Photo Credits: Joan Marcus

Sidebar: I always associate The 39 Steps with a Sesame Street Monsterpiece Theater segment. In honor of Sesame Street's 40th anniversary, enjoy this clip:

1 comment:

Esther said...

I'm a huge fan of "The 39 Steps." I saw it in Boston and it was the subject of my very first blog post. Last summer I saw it on Broadway and it was just as good. It's witty and inventive. I love how four actors can do so much with a few props. It's really about the magic of theatre. And I'd never seen "The 39 Stairs" so thanks for the video!