Brian Jacobson

Fierce quick-change highlights The Rep’s “39 Steps”

By - Jan 11th, 2011 04:00 am

Are you the kind of person who would rather see the film instead of the play? Well, here you go: Watch The 39 Steps on Hulu right now.  The 1935 Alfred Hitchcock comedy/thriller is a quaint story of espionage and romance involving an innocent man on the run, as played by the unflappable Robert Donat.

It’s an early work for Hitchcock, and while acclaimed for showing shades of filmmaking mastery, it also feels somewhat staid.

You might as well read the 1915 original adventure book by John Buchan.

Reese Madigan and Helen Anker in "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps." Photo by Michael Brosilow.

But if you require more energy, color, marvel, laughter and ambition, you are going to want to see the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s production of the smash London and Broadway hit called Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, which opens this week on the Quadracci Powerhouse Stage.

By the way, for those who need the full movie storyline and a lot of characters, the script as adapted by Patrick Barlow for Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon uses the movie script almost word for word. All the epic chase sequences are there, as is the costuming, special effects and British characters.  They do all of this however with just four actors and a ladder. Then they inject it with more slapstick and wit. More than a remake, it’s kind of a re-imagining.

Helen Anker

Reese Madigan

West End stalwart and recent Broadway actress Helen Anker plays Pamela (plus Annabella and Margaret, briefly) while Reese Madigan plays ‘wrong man’ lead Richard Hannay.  This leaves everything else up to Repertory Acting Company player Gerard Neugent (last notable in the Laurel and Hardy cabaret show last year) and actor John Pribyl (best known portraying Lucky in APT’s Waiting for Godot this last summer) to fill-in.

Billed as Man 1 (Neugent) and Man 2 (Pribyl), these actors’ job is to run a quick-change farce operation that has been compared to Monty Python for such obvious maddening reasons. They must play hundreds of characters — sometimes in the same scene as different people. Occasionally, they even portray animals and inanimate objects.

John Pribyl

Gerard Neugent

The art of multiple characters, as popularized by the Python troupe and even as seen in Milwaukee recently with Skylight Opera’s Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s version of Around the World in Eighty Days, usually relies on a pacing within scenes or through a multitude of actors.  In this production handpicked by Brit Artistic Director Mark Clements and his team for a stellar season at The Rep, the comedic aspects are ramped up and the pace picked up with the load being placed squarely on two actors.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps starts in preview Jan. 11th for the Milwaukee Rep before opening wide Jan. 14th through mid-February. Look for special Rep in Depth talkbacks and special price nights along with other information at The Milwaukee Rep website or tickets by calling 414-224-9490.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

0 thoughts on “Fierce quick-change highlights The Rep’s “39 Steps””

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure you are referring to the *Milwaukee Chamber Theater* (not Skylight) production of AROUND THE WORLD… which was performed in the Cabot Theater.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for catching our mistake, Patrick!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Correction: In 2009, “Around the World in Eighty Days” was staged by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, NOT Skylight Opera Theatre. No wonder the General Public is so confused, when even the Press assumes that just because a show is staged at The Broadway Theatre Center, it should be credited to Skylight Opera. The BTC is also home to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The mention of Skylight was simply an error — as longtime friends of MCT and the Skylight, TCD of course is aware that “80 Days” was staged by MCT. The copy has been amended — chalk it up to human error.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hey Backstage Bettie, settle down already!

  6. Anonymous says:

    While I understand what you were getting at with “might as well read the book” in terms of the film’s “somewhat staid” tone, in fact Hitchcock made significant changes in both plot and character – almost all of which vastly improved the story. So in that sense, there are vast differences between the book and the film…however dated and stagy the film itself might be. (I think it’s better than your description: Hitchcock’s wit and audacity are already on display, and while he certainly made better films, this one’s still worth seeing.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    mea culpa on the “80 Days” reference. I saw it, I did articles about it, and still I screwed it up.
    As for Hitchcock’s film, yes, it’s worth seeing. My comment did not refer to it being unworthy but instead just not as vibrant and intentionally comical as the current live staging.

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