Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Did 39 Steps Benefit From Critical Leap?

Did 39 Steps Benefit From Critical Leap?

Last evening, Patrick Barlow's stage adaptation (from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon) of the Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps opened at Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. Directed by Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps stars Arnie Burton, Charles Edwards, Jennifer Ferrin and Cliff Saunders.

Most critics offered solid positive reviews.

Complimenting the show, seriously, as "[T]hrowaway theater at its finest," The New York Times' Ben Brantley "But the appeal here is ultimately more to theater aficionados than to movie buffs, and you don’t need to have seen the movie to appreciate the accomplishment of the show. Ms. Aitken and company are using their cinematic template to celebrate the art of instant illusion-making that is theater. Much of the show’s pleasure comes from being in on the magician’s tricks even as, on some primitive level, you accept them....The actors themselves seem to be having a helluva good time. As does the audience. For in addition to providing the relief of being committedly silly in a season of fine dramas about unhappy families, The 39 Steps stands out for its plying of minimal resources to maximal effect."

Calling the comedy "inventively astonishing," New York Post's Clive Barnes offers a three-star review: "The resultant play is a marvelous spoof of the movie, translating Hitchcock's thrills, spills and visuals into elementary stage effects....The play's creators have affectionately pushed Hitchcock's brilliance...into some riotous realm of satire, without losing its essentially Hitchcockian flavor. Aitken, though ultimately in charge of all the fun and games, is much indebted to her actors -- Edwards, Ferrin and her two protean clowns, Burton and Saunders."

Exulting it as "a dizzy delight," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News was dazzled: "It's great fun to watch classic Hitchcock scenes come alive through nothing more than simple props and theatrical magic. A high-speed chase aboard a whizzing train is brilliantly re-created with four crates, puffs of smoke, flashing lights and actors game for anything....The production is inventively directed by Maria Aitken....If The 39 Steps makes a misstep, it's having an intermission. Once this fast-paced fun ride leaves the station, you don't want to get off."

Labeling The 39 Steps as "eccentric" and "an interesting diversion," David Rooney of Variety: "The central joke in this frenetic spoof is the utter unsuitability of the material -- with its high-speed chases across moors, rivers, an elevated bridge and the roof of a moving train -- for stage presentation. The dated conventions of '30s filmmaking, the outmoded acting styles, preposterous accents and the loopy dialogue played straight all combine with a tongue-in-cheek performance mode that blends mime, slapstick and Monty Python-esque drollery in a brand of film sendup that's more commonly the domain of television, from 'The Carol Burnett Show' to 'French & Saunders.'"

Deriding the show as a "strenuously silly parody," The New York Sun's Eric Grode was left cold by the production: "[D]espite Maria Aitken's agreeably antic staging and the Herculean efforts of her four hardworking actors, Mr. Barlow pads his scene-by-scene homage with overly obvious references to other Hitchcock films, and sight gags that don't go much of anywhere....But while these four actors may be ready for their close-ups, their sketch-comedy shenanigans are only sporadically ready for prime time."

The limited run of The 39 Steps is currently slated until March 29. I'll be seeing the show over the next month and will let you know what I think.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
"39" Steps Into Broadway Opening (January 15, 2008)
39 Steps To The Great White Way (September 6, 2007)
Sunday At The Grosvenor House With Laurence (February 19, 2007)

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At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Wow, I can't believe that I agree completely with Ben Brantley. The 39 Steps is a great show! It's witty and inspired and entertaining, and I had a great time when I saw it in Boston. And far from "padding," I think the references to other Hitchcock movies are terrific!

I know some critics are calling it kind of a fluffy trifle, but I don't agree. While it may not have the weighty themes and emotional depth of some current Broadway offerings, there's a great deal of skill and artistry involved here. Arnie Burton and Cliff Saunders, who play multiple roles, are really wonderful.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I appreciated hearing from you on your take of the show. Thanks to your recommendation, I can't wait to see the show. I could use a little fluff right about now! Plus, I do love Hitchcock flicks.

At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Jim Donahue said...

I saw it last Saturday and LOVED it. I haven't been to B'way in ages, and this was money well spent.

At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jim, Thanks for weighing in. I'm a huge Hitchcock fan, but have never seen the film version of "The 39 Steps." Now, thanks to your blog, I can watch it from the privacy of my own office. Appreciate the link from your site!

At 16 January, 2008, Anonymous e said...

I have had the pleasure of working with Arnie Burton. Comedy gold, that man. Do anything you can to see him perform.

At 16 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

e, you'll have to tell me more off-line! I'll be the audience for the show in the upcoming weeks.

Great to hear from you. Happy New Year.

At 30 January, 2009, Blogger Sweet Baby Kate said...

We went to see The 39 Steps last night. We had rented the movie in December so we knew the story.

I cannot tell you how much I laughed! The cast was absolutely amazing. They used minimal props and made them believable. There were so many clever moments that I can't remember them all. I'm going to make every attempt to see it again!

As another posted, the actors seemed to have as much fun as the audience. It's nice to see a show rich with talented performers! EVERYONE should treat themselves to experiencing this fantastic show!!

At 30 January, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Kate, Thank you for sharing your experience. It really is a fun show. Glad to hear that it's holding up well!


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