‘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!

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.