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Area theaters take ‘The 39 Steps’

April 1, 2012
By JACK FELIX - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Dozens - if not hundreds - of artistic directors are now stepping up and snatching the rights to stage "The 39 Steps", including three in our area.

This madcap stage adaptation of the famed 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film has been scheduled by Mill Hall's Millbrook Playhouse, Wellsboro's Hamilton Gibson Productions and Boiling Springs' Allenberry Playhouse in their upcoming seasons.

What may have started out as "thirty-nine steps" walked a whole lot further as the crime caper celebrated over 1,000 performances between its nearly two-year Broadway and off-Broadway run, a feat almost unheard of for a non-musical.

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Millbrook Playhouse, Allenberry Playhouse and Hamilton Gibson Productions will produce theatrical versions of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” this year.

Set in 1914, "The 39 Steps" is played at breakneck speed, winding through wild chases, narrow escapes and outright silly detours through the European countryside, as an innocent bystander races cross-country to solve a mysterious crime - before it can be blamed on him.

Artistic directors whom I've talked to in recent weeks agree that the popularity of this part-spy-tale-and-part-comedy can be traced to the show's inventiveness: minimal sets and props and a cast of four playing 150 roles, acting as stars, set pieces and special effects magicians - all at once.

Millbrook Playhouse (July 26 to 29 and Aug. 1 to 5) - Heading into Millbrook's 49th season, first year Artistic Director Teresa K. Pond will plug "The 39 Steps" onto the Main Stage and the production will be the only non-musical to hold that distinction. This should bode well with the larger stage and more seating capacity than the downstairs Cabaret. Marketed as a true gem for fans of Alfred Hitchcock and old movies in general, Millbrook's production team no doubt expects this show to also appeal to more modern audiences with its creativity and ironic fun.

Allenberry Playhouse (Oct. 17 to Nov. 10) - Artistic Director Rogue Berlanga lines up Allenberry's April through November seasons well over one year before announcing its lineup. ''This is a riotous comedy smash," Berlanga said. "It uses ingenious theatrical invention and is an engaging, fast-paced who-dunit that celebrates the magic of theater."

Allenberry will open its season April 11 with "Forever Plaid" and will conclude with "The 39 Steps," again, the only non-musical in the acclaimed professional playhouse's 2012 season.

Hamilton Gibson (Nov. 9 to 11 and 15 to 17) - Artistic Director Thomas Putnam is staging the area's first non-professional production of "The 39 Steps," which is marketed as "Hitchcock meets Monty Python meets Buster Keaton." H-G Secretary Larry Biddison is a member of the Artistic Planning Committee that picked "The 39 Steps." "Our actors love broad farcical comedies," Biddison said. "And this comedy helps to balance our season with this fall's drama."

With references to "Rear Window," "Vertigo" and other Hitchcock favorites, "The 39 Steps" lends itself to an unapologetic tongue-in-cheek flare, with one of its greatest strengths being that the script never allows itself to be taken seriously.

On the lam from the authorities and the pack of diabolical killers, the mild-mannered hero struggles to figure out the meaning of the mysterious phrase "The 39 Steps," which is a thread that runs throughout the play.

Area artistic directors no doubt expect their audiences will share in searching for the solution and have a grand entertaining time in doing so.



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