‘The 39 Steps’ is must-see theatre for all who like to laugh

‘The 39 Steps’ at the Hilberry Theatre

Rating: 5 Stars

By Patty Nolan of The Examiner

The funniest play you are likely to see this spring traces its unlikely origins to the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The 39 Steps.” This Hilberry Theatre production – the season finale – should be mandatory viewing for anyone wishing to understand either the mechanics of comedy or the essentials of theatrical storytelling.

Michael Phillip Thomas and Brandy Joe Plambeck in 'The 39 Steps'

Michael Phillip Thomas and Brandy Joe Plambeck in ‘The 39 Steps’

Hitchcock based his thriller on a novel by John Buchan and reset it in pre-WWII Britain to leverage the imminent Nazi threat as a dramatic device. Playwright Patrick Barlow discovered comic alchemy by rendering the Hitchcock film, scene by scene, as a manic theatrical parody staring four hardworking actors. The hero is Richard Hannay, featuring Michael Manocchhio as the blasé Brit with a flair heroism and hilarious side patter with the audience. The Woman, played by Bevin Bell-Hall, is a brilliant send up of Hollywood’s best female stereotypes – the seductress, the innocent ingénue, and the good-hearted farm girl – in this case, one with a decidedly Scottish accent. All of the other roles are played by the two “Clowns” – Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas – who flip characters, costumes and accents faster than IHOP pancakes, and with even similar variety. As the play reaches its climax and the chase sequences demand a larger cast of characters, Plambeck and Thomas are required to portray multiple roles within a single scene; the frantic costume changes and clever devices that make this possible give this farce its breathless charm.

Read the full review here: http://exm.nr/1J2snWj

REVIEW: Hilberry scores a laugh-fest with “The 39 Steps”

By David Kiley for Encore Michigan. Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

It isn’t often a reviewer gets to say “I laughed ’til I cried,” but that is exactly what happened at The Hilberry Theatre Company’s production of The 39 Steps. At one point, I almost had to leave my seat. But since I wasn’t alone in my break-down, it was all right.

39 Steps Blog Photo

This is the third time I have seen this farce produced, and I always wonder what percentage of the audience has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” film from the 1930s. The staging of the film’s story in British-farce style is extremely funny for anyone, but it is downright hilarious for anyone who is a fan of the Hitchcock film catalog and has seen “Steps” multiple times.

The play rolls out as if a drama teacher told a group of talented improv actors who had seen the film twenty or so times to stage the film using whatever happened to be in the costume and prop rooms.

It is a seven-member cast. Manocchio plays Hannay throughout with great flair and comedic timing, with his Errol Flynn-cool comedic timing and dash, and athletic maneuvering around the stage–including using the backstage ladder and catwalk as the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Bell-Hall plays multiple roles with several costume changes–from the spy to the seemingly innocent, but really very randy, farmer’s wife to Hannay’s love interest and cohort in the story. She carries a big load in the show, and is marvelous and sexy at every turn.

It is Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas, though, billed as “clowns” who keep the audience in stitches. They do a dizzying number of character and costume changes in rapid fire, sometimes doing a scene requiring four people as they duck behind a steamer trunk and slide on a coat or beard to each play two characters, other times as when Thomas wears a trench coat half-on/half-off and just keeps turning side to side as he does a conversation between two characters both played by him. Sometimes, the changes happen so fast, it seems like a Houdini trick. It looks like an exhausting show for the two of them, but they could soar with these roles on any stage in the world, and the Hilberry is lucky to get them for this run. They do some turns in drag, and bring such gaiety to it, with touches of improved bits of business, that you’ll be laughing and tearing up the next day just thinking about it. It helps that the two of them have faces seemingly created by nature to do sketch comedy.

Three “stage-hands” are part of the on-stage ensemble–played by Devri Chism, Julian David Colletta and Santino Craven–who portray a couch, chair, a car, doors, sound effects, etc. Their presence throughout, moving set pieces around and then performing, as they do–for example, forming a car with their bodies and the steamer trunks, and then transitioning to sheep blocking the road–is all part of the wondrous cleverness of the show and excellent direction by Russel Treyz and company.

Read the full review here. Buy tickets here!

Stage Door Series, an evening for Young Professionals, debuts at the Hilberry Theatre April 18

DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre Company is launching a program for the young professional Detroit community. The Stage Door Series is an exciting new opportunity for arts-lovers in their 20s and 30s to enjoy an evening of theatre followed by a trip to one of many great Midtown watering holes where they will mingle with the Hilberry company members along with other young professionals.


The program will kick-off at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 18th with The 39 Steps, a hilarious spoof of the 1935 Hitchcock thriller that blends frenzied performances and wildly inventive stagecraft with spies, murder, and some good old-fashioned romance!  A two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner, The 39 Steps is a serious-spy-story-turned-madcap-comedy, full of biting wit, hilarious character changes, and allusions to, and puns on, other classic Hitchcock stories.

Following the show, members of the Hilberry cast and crew will be at Tony V’s Tavern located a few blocks North of the theatre at 5756 Cass Ave., to meet and mingle with other Detroiters, promising a great night for all.

The Hilberry Theatre, part of Wayne State University, is a graduate theatre program employing more than 35 theatre professionals under the age of 35. Located in the heart of Midtown, the Hilberry Company already enjoys the nightlife of Detroit, and now they want to include you!

The Stage Door Series will continue into the Hilberry’s 2015–16 season with a schedule of six memorable shows and six lively restaurants. The 2015–16 season includes titles such as the uproarious One Man Two Guvnors and the lavish The Great Gatsby, so the Stage Door Series is guaranteed to be a fun time with good people and great conversation.

To purchase tickets, call (313) 577-2972 or visit the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street. Subscriptions to the 2015–16 Stage Door Series are on sale now. Subscribers are an integral part of the Hilberry community and enjoy discounted prices, priority seating, exchange privileges, lost ticket insurance, free coffee, and a free subscription to the theatre’s newsletter.

About the Hilberry Theatre Company

The Hilberry Theatre hosts a professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students in Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees. The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 31,000 students.

The 39 Steps | I’ve Seen This Story Before…

39 Steps Slide

The story originally debuted as a novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, written by John Buchan and published in 1915. The title has enjoyed continuous print circulation since that date and is the first of five books featuring Richard Hannay. In the premiere story, Hannay discovers an international conspiracy to assassinate a Greek leader and lead Europe into a war. The Hannay character continues to appear as the protagonist in four additional novels by Buchan, along with supporting roles in two other stories and a later “non-Buchan” novel published after the author’s death. In Buchan’s autobiography, he suggests the character is inspired by Edmund Ironside, an Edinburgh native who became a spy during the Second Boer War.

The story was taken up by director Alfred Hitchcock in a 1935 film version, titled The 39 Steps. One of Hitchcock’s early successes, the film sets the stage for many of the director’s future film treatments, including the presence of an icy femme fatale, and an unflappable leading man. The film continues to enjoy wide recognition well into the present day. The 1935 version received a reworking in a new color film released in 1959, directed by Ralph Thomas. This film was only seen in the UK and has been somewhat forgotten in the years since.

In 1978, the story again appeared on film as The Thirty-Nine Steps. Screenwriter Michael Robson adapted the material with several deviations from what had been seen before, including a fight on Big Ben and a climactic sequence in southern England, rather than Scotland. The film serves one of a handful of adult acting roles for Karen Dotrice, who starred as the female lead and remains well-known for her child acting performance as Jane Banks in Mary Poppins. As Hannay, actor Robert Powell received good notices for his performance and reprised the role 10 years later in a two-season-long television series featuring further exploits of the character.

The story lept back into the public consciousness following the debut of The 39 Steps stage production in 2006. Writers Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon had reimagined the story in 1995 for a cast of four actors. A rewrite, by Patrick Barlow, appeared at the UK’s West Yorkshire Playhouse during the summer of 2006, later transferring to London, first at North London’s Tricycle Theatre and then into the Criterion Theatre, where it continues to run today.

In the US, The 39 Steps debuted at the Huntington Theatre Company, in Boston on September 19, 2007. The title hit Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production at the American Airlines Theatre, with previews beginning January 4, 2008 and the official opening on January 15, 2008.


DETROIT – The Hilberry Theatre Company is pleased to present the final production of its 52nd season. The 39 Steps, running April 10th – 25th, takes a well-known story immortalized on film by Alfred Hitchcock and adds comedic, suspenseful, and fast-paced twists. The play is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

Michael Manocchio, photo by Ian Wolfe and Sandra Turner

Michael Manocchio, photo by Ian Wolfe and Sandra Turner

This hilarious spoof of the 1935 Hitchcock thriller blends frenzied performances and wildly inventive stagecraft with spies, murder, and some good old-fashioned romance!  A two-time Tony and Drama Desk award winner, The 39 Steps is a serious spy story turned madcap comedy, full of biting wit and hilarious character changes, as well as allusions to and puns on other Hitchcock classic stories.

The Hilberry welcomes guest director Russell Treyz, who has a wide range of production credits across the country. Treyz describes the play as “great fun for audience and actors alike. Newbies to Hitchcock and Hitchcock addicts will both revel in the fun and suspense of the story and its references. The original creators of this theater piece built it from shot to shot references to Hitchcock’s original film, but it has also grown to include much more for fans of classic suspense cinema.”

Tickets for The 39 Steps range from $10–$31 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at Hilberry.com, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue at the corner of Hancock Street.

The Hilberry’s recently unveiled 2015-16 season promises a delightful array of comedy and drama. The season will kick off with the Southeast Michigan premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, a recent Broadway hit. Next up will be a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, running both on the mainstage and in special student group matinees. Appearing just in time for the holidays will be Inspecting Carol, a backstage holiday comedy. Early 2016 brings William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, followed by the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Clybourne Park, addressing gentrification in 21st century urban America. The season will conclude in April 2016 with David Ives’ hysterical version of the French farce, A Flea in Her Ear.

Calendar Information

Wednesday 2 p.m.          April 15 (Post show Talkback)
Thursday 8 p.m.                April 16 (Preshow Discussion), April 23
Friday 8 p.m.                      April 10 (Opening Night), April 17, April 24
Saturday 2 p.m.                April 11, April 25
Saturday 8 p.m.                April 11, April 18, April 25

Cast (in alphabetical order):

Bevin Bell-Hall (Woman), Devri Chism (Stage Hand), Julian David Colletta (Stage Hand), Santino Craven (Stage Hand), Michael Manocchio (Richard Hannay), Brandy Joe Plambeck (Clown), Michael Phillip Thomas (Clown)

Production Team:

Russell Treyz (Director), Lyndee Hallahan (Stage Manager), Allison Baker (Assistant Stage Manager), Tonae Mitsuhashi (Set Designer), Mary Gietzen (Costume Designer), Eric Haugen (Lighting Designer), Amy M. Schneider (Sound Designer), Stephanie Baugher (Properties Master), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Mario Raymond (Master Electrician), Dale Dorlin (Publicist), JP Hitesman (Assistant Publicist).

About the Hilberry Theatre Company

Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance serves students as a nexus of performance, production, and research in the fields of dance, theatre, and performance studies.  It provides a wide variety of degree programs that allow students the flexibility to study these disciplines broadly or to concentrate more specifically in performance, design, or management.  The Hilberry Theatre hosts a professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees.  The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.

Hilberry MFA Costume Designer Anne Suchyta Awarded National Prize

Detroit, MI – Wayne State University Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to congratulate third-year graduate student Anne Suchyta on winning the Roesebrand® Action Design Competition award for Best Costume Design at the recent 2015 USITT Conference. The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) is a national service organization committed to promoting and advancing the fields of entertainment design and technology.

Anne is in her third and final year as a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) costume designer with the Hilberry Theatre Company and studies under the direction of John Woodland, area head for MFA costume design at Wayne State University.  Anne’s WSU design credits include Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet), Big Love, In the Red and Brown Water, Noises Off, and The Way of the World, recently recorded for inclusion in the NY Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at Lincoln Center.

Asked about her experience at USITT, Anne says, “I had a great time participating in the Action Design Competition. I enjoyed collaborating with students from various backgrounds and racing against the clock to create something beautiful.”

The Action Design Competition challenges participants to create the best scenic environment with limited supplies and time. Designers from across the nation are assembled into teams of four and awards are given to the best overall group design and individual awards are given for each specialization (lighting design, scenic design, costume design, and technical direction). Anne’s quick-thinking ingenuity earned her the individual prize for best costume design.

Anne’s teacher and supervisor, John Woodland, was not surprised with Anne’s win, “We were terribly pleased that Anne Suchyta  and her classmate, Mary Gietzen, and were selected to be two of the four finalists in the 2015 Rosebrand® USITT Action Design Competition. We were even more excited that Anne was the winner of the competition. Over the past three years, Anne has really developed as a creative artist through many sleepless nights working on costume renderings and developing her vast talents in stitching in the costume shop. It is really great to know that our students can compete on a national competitive level, but that can also lead the others in that forum.”

John Wolf, Chair of the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance said, “Anne’s award is a great honor that illustrates the exceptional talent in the Hilberry company. Congratulations, Anne!”

Hilberry’s thought-provoking ‘An Enemy of the People’ well worth seeing

By Sue Suchyta

Dearborn Times-Herald – March 20, 2015

Don't miss the FINAL WEEKEND - March 26 - 28

When should a person risk his own safety and the well-being of his family to protect the majority, people blinded by ignorance or greed, from their own folly?

In Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” Dr. Stockmann faces this dilemma when he discovers the water feeding the town’s health spa, which has dramatically improved the area’s economy, is contaminated with bacteria, causing serious health problems among the guests, including typhus.

Understandably, in an era when most people did not know about bacteria, tiny creatures visible only under a microscope, they do not comprehend the doctor’s concern, but they do realize what would happen to their town if they lost their reputation as a restorative destination.

To complicate matters, the doctor’s brother is the town’s mayor, and his father-in-law’s tannery may be the source of the contamination.

The town claims to embrace democracy, but they do not want to hear the doctor’s warnings, and they do not want him ruining the town’s livelihood by spreading the news beyond its borders. The majority also oppose a tax to create a new water intake and filtering facility.

Miller may have seen parallels to the McCarthy-era witch hunts when he adapted Ibsen’s play.

Brandy Joe Plambeck is tremendous as Dr. Stockmann, a man pledged to do no harm, who struggles to protect the public while his own family is threatened and vilified.