“The 39 Steps” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ October 7, 2013


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

The stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s bizarre 1935 thriller “The 39 Steps” proved a huge Broadway hit.  When it toured, it stopped at ASU Gammage as part of their Broadway series.  I reviewed it and didn’t like it finding it ridiculously silly.

Phoenix Theatre is mounting a local production that opened over the weekend and, like most of the opening night audience, I loved the frivolous tomfoolery.  Why did my opinion of this wacky melodrama and its asinine storyline change so dramatically?

“The 39 Steps” demands intimacy.  The inane antics must be close to the audience so they are drawn into it as the four-person ensemble essay a variety of roles.  In the vast confines of ASU Gammage, the comedy seemed dull, listless, and not very funny but up close and personal at Phoenix Theatre, the show is a laugh-filled lark and the stupid shenanigans and madcap carryings on delights.

While the intimacy helps tremendously, much of the local production’s success rests with Matthew Weiner’s expert comic staging, a superb set design that becomes a character itself as it transforms to various locales in the story.  Finally, the cast is filled with four expert farceurs who appeared so polished opening night that they created endless laughter.  They are obviously having a blast with the inane material that is adapted by Patrick Harlow from the John Buchan novel that became the Hitchcock mystery with its endless overtones of comedy and romance.

The silliness can’t be described in much detail or it might spoil the show for audiences.  Suffice it said Richard Hannay gets involved in a murder but he’s innocent.  A woman thinks him guilty and it takes the entire two hours of malarkey to prove him innocent as two clowns keep interfering amusingly with the action. You won’t get any more plot details out of me but know that if you go, you need to follow the action carefully to enjoy the ridiculous things that occur and are guaranteed to make you howl.

Michael Kary’s Hannay is marvelous fun as he plays dumb often enough that he keeps getting deeper into the madcap stupidity.  Angelica Howland essays the various female roles with suave sophistication but she brings enough naiveté to keep the audience in stitches.  As the two clowns, gangly Toby Yatso is all about silly tomfoolery as is Pasha Yamotahari.  The dialogue comes fast and furious.  The cast was letter perfect opening night as was the physical comedy and pratfalls while scenery rushes around contributing its own fun to the proceedings.

When audiences become part of “The 39 Steps” the foolish malarkey is delightful fun especially with a sharp and brilliantly directed cast.  “The 39 Steps” continues through October 20.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: B