Review "THE 39 STEPS": Hitchcock Spoof is CUTE!

Broadway in Chicago presents


Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on the original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
Based on the book by John Buchan
Directed by Maria Aitken
Thru May 30th
Buy Tickets
Running Time: One hour and fifty minutes with a fifteen minute intermission

BY Katy Walsh

THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR PRESENTS a laughable legacy of intrigue.  Broadway in Chicago is promoting THE 39 STEPS, a spoof on Alfred Hitchcock’s films.  To cure his boredom, Richard goes to the theatre. He becomes SPELLBOUND there by a woman saying she’s a SECRET AGENT.  He takes in THE LODGER and soon DIALS M FOR MURDER.  The police are SUSPICIOUS of Richard and set out to CATCH A THIEF … okay murderer.  NOTORIOUS for going after THE WRONG MAN (especially in Hitchcock movies), the police chase Richard right into the arms of a YOUNG AND INNOCENT blonde.  These STRANGERS ON A TRAIN face a FRENZY of obstacles to become love BIRDS.   Pamela has a SHADOW OF A DOUBT that Richard is a PSYCHO killer.  (Often THE MAN WHO KNOWS TOO MUCH is the SABOTEUR in relationships.)   There is no looking back out the REAR WINDOW, this soon to be MR. & MRS. SMITH are in the LIFEBOAT for life as soon as they figure out THE MANXMAN behind the SABOTAGE.   At the Bank of America Theatre, just NORTH BY NORTHWEST of the brown line stop, THE 39 STEPS gives MURDER! a comedy spin. A four person cast overcomes STAGE FRIGHT by exploiting the Hitchcock film caricatures.  I CONFESS it’s a clever burlesque but the comedy element doesn’t reach the heights for VERTIGO.


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The foursome is a comedic force playing multiple characters.  The only ensemble member going solo, Ted Deasy (Richard Hannay) plays the pipe smoking straight man with elegant panache.  Claire Brownwell (Annabella Schmidt/Pamela/Margaret) is all the key female roles from spy to corpse using a wide range of amusing emotional embellishment.  Eric Hissom (Man #1) and Scott Parkinson (Man #2) are the large supporting cast.  Going drag and sometimes two-faced, Hissom and Parkison  exaggerate  gestures of mockery to exploit the comedy.   THE 39 STEPS uses shadowing, puppetry, strobe lights, smoke to enhance the joke.  The cast even has a technique for being windblown.  It’s clever… the first time. 

The concept of this farce has all the makings for comedic intrigue brilliance.  Instead, it settles for ‘cute.’  A string of cute bits that made me smile.   Alfred Hitchcock is renowned for ‘edge of the seat’ thrilling rides.  The 39 STEPS – the movie was.  THE 39 STEPS – the play isn’t.  If the movie is an adrenalin rush of two shots of espresso, the play is steamed milk.  It’s a light, frothy libation before bedtime.  It’s a cozy treat enjoyed in the moment but without lasting impression, stimulation or addiction side effects.    

RICH AND STRANGE, Dick describes the show as “Alfred Slapsitchcock Presents!”

Loving Chicago’s special restaurant events and deals to try new venues, Dick and I decide to participate in La Rioja Week and dine at Mercat a la Planxa, 638 S. Michigan.  During Rioja week, restaurants are serving up $25 lunches or $35 dinners with a glass of Rioja.  Mercat boasts a six tapa meal with a glass of 2004 Glorisos Reserva Tempernillo.  EASY VIRTUE!  When we order, the server encourages us to supplement our meal with some restaurant specialties.   Confused, we stay true to La Rioja Week theme:  dinner for $35.  The food was tasty!  My favorites were bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and butternut squash dumplings with lamb ragout.   The server’s agenda is quickly apparent.  The $35 dinner at Mercat is really six appetizers and a glass of wine.  We begrudgingly do supplement with a dessert.  BLACKMAIL!   

Post show, I catch up with Theatre Bob from the Chicago Theatre Addict.  We decide to go to Miller’s Pub, 134 S. Wabash.  An old school theatre haunt with celebrity pictures from Ethel Merman days decorating the walls.  It’s packed at 10pm on a Wednesday night.  We are promptly informed booths and tables are reserved for diners until 2am.  Theatre Bob scores stools by the windows.  The drinks, though not CHAMPAGNE, are still cheap for downtown.  Theatre Bob and I talk theatre shop covering a range of shows except for the one we just saw.  All too soon, it’s time to say BON VOYAGE and THE LADY VANISHES.


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  • What a fun review. (More fun than the show, I'm afraid...)

    This Chicago Theatre Addict thinks we need to coordinate our opening nights. The Chicago bar scene would be much more profitable (and cultured) if we did!

  • In reply to robertian:

    There's a whole new blog waiting to happen!

  • First of all, I said "Slapsitchcock". But what is this 39 Seats business?

  • In reply to UptownDick:

    Duly noted, Dick! Thanks for the edits. Made-up-words aren't always recognized on my spell check.

  • In reply to UptownDick:

    Hmm. Now I am able to concentrate on the merits of the review and have to say that it is very clever--just like the play itself.

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