The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps

Who'da thought a hymn book could stop a bullet! Still I'm not surprised. Some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through! — Sheriff
The 39 Steps is as mad a name for a spy ring as this wily confection is for the stage. Based on the novel by John Buchan (which actually had 39 Steps coming up from the river), by way of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film starring Robert Donat, Patrick Barlow has conceived a true theaterepiece, with only four actors (count them, four) playing 150 parts, more or less.

Set in 1935, like the film, this rollicking romp is a corker from first to last. Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy), a bored young Englishman, goes to the Palladium in search of diversion and finds more than he asked for, beginning with a hilariously beautiful spy named Annabella Schmidt (Claire Brownell). Then it's off we go, through lots of fog, pursued by two men who metamorphose into many (Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson) and encountering Miss Brownell in two other personas, Margaret, a cowed Highlands housewife, and Pamela, Our Heroine.

Hannay does have an arc, which forces itself on him in the second act when he's maurooned on stage as the guest speaker and finds himself believing such platitudes as "Change is good!" and "You carry on! And it's pretty bracing when you do." Pamela's is more predictable, as she gazes soulfully at Hannay and snippily tells him off in the next breath. Eagerly she pounces on The Truth, after overhearing the two cops on the phone plotting her demise as well as Hannay's.

The two men, who play so many, are superb protean examples of the actor's art. They play everything from women to thugs, to a Scottish crofte and to a sheriff. How they change costumes in time to make their entrances is a dazzling puzzlement, even when they do it in front of us. One doffs a policeman's hat, turns his back, and put on another cap in lightening speed.

There are breathtaking pursuits. The first involves Hannay scrambling through a train, up on the roof of the train and swinging precariously from the rings of the Forth Bridge. A stepladder plays the bridge, but I could swear I saw it. The second chase follows Hannay and Pamela, handcuffed together, and fleeing the two heavies. Their perils include a shower curtain for a waterfall, a man on his back with legs apart representing a cleft, a blue cloth as a river — until Hannay steps out of charcter shouting "No, no, no! Put it down!" and a man as a vile thorn bush snagging Pamela until she slaps his face. The men fall in and out of the action, constructing a car out of chairs and playing Mr. and Mrs. McGarrigle, indecipherable Scottish innkeepers. Finally at the Palladium, when a mysterious shot rings out, one of them says, with bewildered anguish, "It was supposed to be a cast of — FOUR! "

Maria Aitken directs with superlative innovative glee. Peter McKintosh slyly designed the sets and costumes. And as to the four, one is one (Deasy), one plays three (Brownell) and two play everybody else without missing a beat and a breathless roar to them all!

Author's Note: This clever coup-de-theater had a long run on Broadway and recently changed its status to Off-Broadway by moving to an Off-Broadway venue in midtown Manhattan where it can continue on a smaller budget. This on-to-off-Broadway shift has also worked well for another long-running Broadway hit, AvenueQ. To read Curtainup's reviews of the show in London and twice on Broadway go here.
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow, based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, from the book by John Buchan
Director: Maria Aitken
Cast: Claire Brownell (Annabella Schmidt/Pamela/Margaret). Ted Deasy (Richard Hannay), Eric Hissom (Man #1), Scott Parkinson (Man #2).
Set and Costume Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Mic Pool
Original Movement Created By Toby Sedgwick
Additional Movement Created by Christopher Bayes
Production Stage Manager: Harold Goldfaden
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Running Dates: April 27-May 16, 2010
Where: The Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave. Los Angeles. Reservations: (213) 972-4400.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 28, 2010.
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.

Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps
  • I disagree with the review of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps
  • The review made me eager to see Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Sweeney Todd DVD

Playbill Broadway Yearbook


©Copyright 2010, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from