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BWW Reviews: Thrifty Thrilling 39 STEPS @ Ahmanson


Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense. This creative team have taken a suspenseful Hitchcock film (1935) and gone a giant step further to fashion a thoroughly entertaining, high comedy cinematic suspense yarn for the stage.

Ted Deasy plays Richard Hannay whose adventure starts out quite simply with a visit to a music hall in London. There things get a bit tense as he meets a peculiar brunette named Annabella Schmidt (Claire Brownell) who shoots off a gun in the theatre and then proceeds to go home with Hannay for protection, as she is being followed by two shady characters who want her dead because she knows too much about The 39 Steps. More about that later. The 2 shady characters (Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson) play about two dozen characters between them and Brownell plays two other roles besides Schmidt - a Scottish country wife named Pamela and a blonde femme fatale named Margaret who also has eyes for Hannay. He doesn't have to worry very long about Schmidt, as she is killed off close to the top. Slapstick, visual jokes and special effects all add up to a fabulous evening of edge-of-your-seat fun.

The four incredible actors possess impeccable timing. As they mime chases aboard trains, inside and out, through water, against fierce winds and dodging low flying planes, the adventure is nonstop. Just watching one of them pretend to escape through a window is an hilariously novel experience. Plus there is music, visuals and one-liners alluding to just about every Alfred Hitchcock film imaginable, including Psycho, Vertigo, North by NorthWest, Rear Window, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Torn Curtain and The Man Who Knew Too Much. In the background Bernard Herrman's famous scores from Psycho and Vertigo are heard at death defying moments.

The sheer theatricality of this piece makes it an homage not only to Hitchcock movies but also to the theatre itself. The audience watch in awe director Aitken's pacing and the four actors who work brilliantly at breakneck speed - with an economy of props and set pieces.

Good show! Oh, I almost forgot... what are The 39 Steps? Well, you're just going to have to see the show to learn the answer to that!


Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow based on the book by John Buchan & on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon directed by Maria Aitken Ahmanson Theatre through May 16.

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