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Hitchcock thriller comes to Columbus stage

Photo Courtesy of Craig Schwartz

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller, “The 39 Steps,” has seen its fair share of audiences and fanfare. The film has captivated millions with its guns, spies, murderers and high-speed chases, but the story will be captivating audiences once again in quite a different manner.

The movie script has been adapted for the stage, and Broadway Across America and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts are bringing the performance to Columbus Jan. 19 through 24.

The adaptation stars only four actors, who will play over 150 characters from the original storyline of the film.

“The script follows pretty closely to the original film,” said Ted Deasy, who plays the lead Richard Hannay. “But the telling of the story is very different. It is a very, very funny, fast-paced comedy.”

For those familiar with Hitchcock-era films, a fast-paced rendition might seem impossible. Hannay, seeking a frivolous night out at the theater, is deceived by a mysterious woman who claims to be a spy. Hannay gets wrapped up in her world of lies and deceptions and follows her until she ends up dead, with all fingers pointing at Hannay. He then must flee from the London police while trying to prove his innocence.

Deasy’s character is “unexpectedly thrown into an international espionage situation. He has to run from bad guys he doesn’t even know, and has to chase down the 39 steps,” Deasy said. The female spy tells Hannay about 39 steps and stealing British military secrets, but he never truly understands what he is running from.

Deasy plays one role in the play, and his female counterpart Claire Brownell also plays one character. The other two cast members, Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson, do the grunt work and play everything from murderers to tables and cars, Deasy said.

Having four people play the entirety of the cast of characters makes the style of the play different, he said. The original stage production of “The 39 Steps” was done in a small theater in England, where only two people took on all of the roles.

“They wanted to tell it in a very theatrical way,” Deasy said. “The real fun of the show is watching these four people tell the entire story without a lot of props and without a lot of set. If nothing else, the comedy comes from the style of the production.”

Deasy said that though the best part about the production is the rapid character changes and fast-paced nature of the script, it is also the most difficult aspect of the production because it wears out the four actors, who remain on stage for the duration of the story.

But his favorite scene is one in which Hannay must escape from a moving train.

“He escapes the train by crawling out of the window over the fourth bridge in Scotland and jumping off,” Deasy said. “The way the director and the choreographer put this scene together is just really wild, because it’s just the four of us and a couple of trunks and that’s it. It’s crazy to watch and it’s crazy to put together this great train escape on stage.”

The Broadway rendition concluded a two-and-a-half-year run on Sunday and has won two Tony Awards. The national tour, which is stopping in Columbus, began this fall and will conclude in June.

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