“The 39 Steps” at Cort Theatre

The 39 Steps
Cort Theatre



The cast of ‘39 Steps’ in a rare moment of calm: Cliff Saunders, Charles Edwards, Jennifer Ferrin, Arnie Burton

Broadway has grown an affinity for farce.  The Great White Way has enjoyed the success of ‘The Producers,’ which leveraged Mel Brook’s somewhat inevitable sequel ‘Young Frankenstein.’  Currently, ‘Boeing Boeing’ is the improbably successful take on a French farce.  But several years ago ‘Spamalot’ may have done more to bring straight males to the theatre, and the current ‘39 Steps’ represents a rather viable mashup of Monty Python and Alfred Hitchcock.

The decidedly British production has a cast of 4.1, with 75% of the actors playing several roles.  Man 1 and Man 2 are the casting credits for Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton, who steal the lion’s share of the roles and the laughs.  Scottish accents are laid on thick, and vary admirably across myriad characters as our hero finds he must travel north from his London flat.  Why the chase?  It seems a vaguely Germanic femme fatale ends up with a knife in her back while seeking refuge in our bored hero’s flat.  Military plans are about to fall into enemy hands (the play is set in the mid 1930s, swirling rumors of war on the continent are seeping into staid Britain). With the requisite stiff upper lip and cocked eyebrow, Richard Hannay (played by Charles Edwards) out runs the Bobbies and Scotland Yard but not the lovely Margaret (Jennifer Ferrin, quickly blonde after shedding her dark Germanic tresses).  The pair love and hate each other.  Soon they are conveniently handcuffed when the police capture the pair, so bedding down at a Scottish bed and breakfast on the moors is ripe with sexual frisson.

Throughout the play there are groaning references to Hitchcock film titles, including a clever shadow puppet homage to the director’s TV show.  The actors increasingly break the fourth wall with varied success.

The bare stage and minimal props are used to surprisingly successful effect. A play within a play setting cleverly bookends the production.

All in, this is a pleasant evening providing a tasty slice of upper crust British farce.

The 39 Steps is now playing at Cort Theater; 138 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036; Run time is 1 hour 45min, playing everyday except Monday. For more information, visit www.corttheater.net

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.