“It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever,” Spinal Tap guitarist David St. Hubbins immortally said. The twisted stage production of “The 39 Steps” thankfully flits inventively yet frivolously from start to end, aptly delivering on its tagline of Hitchcock to hilarious.
Yes, we could’ve hit the first parties tied to this weekend’s ICFF design show here in New York. Instead we went for a delicious Spanish supper and a bottle of the house cava at Café Mono, and followed up with a two-hour escape at the Cort Theater (which I love that it’s the early home of the Merv Griffin Show in the late 1960s-early 1970s. RIP).
Four actors manage to pull off an endless stream of characters (and costume changes) for the story, adapted from Hitchcock’s 1935 film and the 1915 John Buchan novel that inspired the film. At times two of the four actors—Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton—flip back and forth between characters with only a change of a hat and accent. It’s fast fun so deftly executed that it’s nearly believable. Nearly. At least enough not to wear the audience.
Jennifer Ferrin also steps into the heels of every love interest required, from a brunette-Marlene Dietrich type to the prototypical Hitchcock blonde, with a dash of camp, of course. Only lead Charles Edwards is the single constant, but his rendition of the dashing hero of this story is no less smartly ridiculous. He is the only hold over from the London production, which opened here in New York five months ago and will hopefully have a long run.
There was something almost vaudevillian in the production, with its sparse sets, ragtime music, self-referential breaks with the audience, including shout-outs to Hitchcock classics. Oh and the use of shadow puppets, including a scene complete with planes that was a funny head-butt to “North by Northwest.”
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