OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
“The 39 Steps,” which has just opened at New Brunswick’s George Street Theatre, is an undoubted hit—promising total sellouts. But before you call to make reservations (and be prepared with alternate dates and times) you might be wise to read the wonderful John Buchan novel, written in 1915. Or better yet, rent the terrific Alfred Hitchcock film of 1935. Or even better—do both.
Because you see, the show is a spoof of the original movie—a very, very funny spoof with plenty of references to other Hitchcock films, and, on opening night, a couple of sensational ad-libs when things went slightly awry. A cast of four—yes, only four—covers the multiple characters in the exciting story.
I’m not sure I can really sum up the plot, but a press release attempts it: "When the beautiful and mysterious Annabella Schmidt turns up dead in his apartment, Richard Hannay goes on the lam to prove his innocence. In the process he must find the man with the missing finger, romance the beautiful blonde—and solve a mystery of magnificent proportions.”
Howard McGillin is playing the hero, Richard Hannay, and he is probably known to local audiences both for an earlier performance this year at George Street in “It Shoulda Been You.” And right after that in the role of Mr. Applegate (the Devil) at Papermill in “Damn Yankees.” Here he plays Hannay as very British, well-mannered, well-schooled, stiff-upper-lip and all that, but with a fascinating sense of adventure. He's just as Buchan wrote him.
And Stacie Morgain Lewis plays the mysterious Annabella Schmidt, Pamela, the beautiful blonde, plus Margaret, the stunning Scottish redhead. Meanwhile Mark Price and Michael Thomas Holmes play all the other dozen and more roles with a hugh variety of hats, jackets and accents, tearing on and off stage at breath-exhausting pace.
The timing is all important and superb. The inventiveness exciting and undoubtedly the off-stage crew is working just as hard to have all the scenery ready to roll, jump or slide into place, and a lighting crew dashing about ready to do the same. The physicality of the evening is impressive. You will laugh yourself silly, and the more you know about every Hitchcock “McGuffin,” the more you’ll roar. Be prepared for a few surprises for this absurd and wonderful theater evening.
“The 39 Steps continues at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, through May 20.Tues-Sat. eves at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 2 and 7 p.m.; Mats. Thurs. and Sat. at 2 p.m. (732) 246-7717