The 39 Steps experience

A theatre show either has a buzz about it or it doesn't.  Our family had been looking forward to seeing The 39 Steps because we'd heard the buzz, the rumblings, murmurs, guffaws, and chortles, since the day it shared its hilarity with the public.  So much can be said about WOMM (Word-Of-Mouth Marketing) and its importance in the marketing mix.  It's the one dimension that cannot be fabricated as it is rooted in authenticity, truth, individual experience.  The 39 Steps generated plenty of WOMM and we found out why yesterday during the closing night performance of the show.

It's one thing to do a comedy on stage, it's a completely different thing to do it well.  We've had several productions over the years that have attempted to hit their mark but failed desperately.  Thankfully, with last season's Private Lives, our faith had been restored and we were in a position to believe that The 39 Steps would in fact be great, and it was.

Featuring only four performers, The 39 Steps and its myriad characters were stick handled by Brodie Dransutavicius, Michelle Thorne, Tim Heggie and Michael Beamish.  Dransutavicius (I have no idea how to pronounce this?) was the only person who played a single character while the remainder juggled the rest.

Trying to shape and mold the transitions in a play like this and seizing the comic moments that percolate between the lines is an onerous task.  But Misha Albert, in his Keyano Theatre directorial debut, has to get a lot of credit for weaving together the complex scenes, geographical locations and settings into a tight, cohesive entertainment package.  From the ingenious train scene to the hilarious one where the two spies were leaning up against a street light, many of the decisions that lifted this show from ordinary to extraordinary were made by Misha and his team of theatre professionals.

The cast was exceptionally adept at playing the style.  The over-the-top, switching accents on the fly, physical comedy rompishness, lifted the play off the page and incited riotous laughter from top to bottom.

I appreciated the performance of Mr. Dransutavicius in the role of Richard Hannay.  That he was rooted to the stage and seemingly relaxed and comfortable in his skin made all the difference playing an effective straight man.

Michelle Thorne is a pleasure to watch, as she always gives so much energy and bite to her performances.  I think about her growth as an artist since we last appeared together in Romeo and Juliet many moons ago, and it makes me smile.  She was wonderful in this summer's Waiting for the Parade, stunning really.  But her work playing most of the women in The 39 Steps was even more brilliant.

Tim Heggie, who I've only seen perform previously in the Suncor Energy Homegrown Talent Search at interPLAY, is a tour de force.  His physical presence, dexterity with language and his natural acuity on stage is a delight to watch.  I was falling off my seat as he seamlessly took the evil doctor from his Scottish brogue facade to his Aryan race alter ego.

"You will be so proud of him," wrote my boss about Michael Beamish in a BBM message after seeing the show on Friday night.  She was (and is) exactly right.  Michael has been one of the great additions to our college and community since he accepted the role of Student Recruitment Coordinator at Keyano.  His directorial work with Rubbish, the show that debuted at interPLAY and was recently featured during Alberta Arts Days, was transformative.  His performance as a clown in The 39 Steps was terrific.

"A delightful escape," explained my wife Heather.

"It was a very funny play," declared by 8 year old son Ben.

I'd ask Dylan for his assessment, but he's still fast asleep.  I can share that at several points in the show he was laughing so hard, he was shaking.

For me, I go back to the moment at the end of the play, when the Christmas tree comes rolling on to the stage and the two clowns climb up and start throwing fake snow to create the closing tableau.  It was a perfect ending to a delightful evening of theatre.

As the lights went dark, then came up again for the curtain call, the audience instantly and exuberantly rose to its feet and showed its appreciation for an unforgettable experience.


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