The 39 Steps by Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, PA
November 14, 2017
Review submitted by Varun Andrews of Bordentown Regional High School
To execute a fast paced and witty Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller, a cast must truly put their hearts and minds into a production. Upper Merion Area High School did just that in their outstanding production of The 39 Steps.
This intriguing and riveting play plunges audiences into the world of Richard Hanney, an ordinary man, who finds himself on the run to finish a mission that was never meant for him: to keep English government secrets out of the hands of an espionage group called “The 39 Steps”. Based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock, The 39 Steps was adapted for the stage in 2005 by Patrick Barlow, going on to become a two time Tony Award winner and hit in the hearts of its audiences.
Upper Merion Area High School’s production of The 39 Steps was anchored by the excellent comedic timing and versatility of the ensemble. Their ability to make the audience laugh while portraying multiple characters was truly a commendable feat that allowed the show’s hilarious script to be brought to life.
Neil Patel, who played Richard Hanney, portrayed his character well and displayed excellent acting skills, with an undying enthusiasm for his character. Opposite to Hanney, was the character of Pamela, marvelously portrayed by Kaci Walter. Walter exuded amazing stage presence, evident through her spats with Richard Hanney, and took her character to a whole new level.
What cannot go unmentioned though is the astounding chemistry visible through a number of character pairings throughout the production, most notably between Ryan Slusky and Luke Preston who played two police officers. Their exemplary interpretations of their characters allowed the production to advance effectively, and allowed them to nail every one of their jokes. Hats off as well to Justin Halpern who flawlessly played three different characters, and managed to make the audience laugh every time he was on stage.
The technical aspects of this production should not go unmentioned, as they developed and enhanced the production immensely. The stage management and crew did a superb job in managing every one of their set changes, making every scene look as real as possible. Julia Denick, who was in charge of costumes, took the production to greater heights through the use of her vivid and elegant style for every character’s costume.
Upper Merion’s production of The 39 Steps was filled with endless humor, excellent acting, and exceptional chemistry. While one may consider this a tough task, Upper Merion continued to charge head on and in the process put on a production that was truly inspiring.
Review submitted by Namita Rao of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School
“And then I thought – wait a minute! Come on Hanney! Pull yourself together man! Find something to do, you bloody fool! Something utterly pointless — I know! A play! That should do the trick!” Sitting on his armchair in his London flat, Englishman Richard Hanney hilariously explains the plight of his pointless existence. In their production of The 39 Steps, Upper Merion High School’s Underground Players delivered this “pointless” parody with a great display of talent.
Mix a spy novel and a bit of Monty Python with Alfred Hitchcock and you have the unmissable comedy of The 39 Steps, set in a world of 1930s espionage. The show centers around the journey of Richard Hanney, who agrees to help a spy, Annabella, to recover air defense plans from a secretive spy network called “The 39 Steps”.
Throughout the show, the cast never failed to exceed expectations. The play was originally written for four actors, but Upper Merion’s seamlessly adapted the show to fit sixteen parts. The ensemble did an amazing job swiftly switching from role to role, changing accents and mannerisms on the fly. It was bit difficult to understand a few of the jokes and puns due to these accents, but overall, the cast’s diction greatly improved in the second act.
Neil Patel as Richard Hanney epitomized the very bored Englishmen in contrast with the over-exaggerated supporting characters. Most endearing was Hanney’s relationship with Pamela, played by Kaci Walter, a normal woman who somehow got tangled in the story. Their onstage chemistry grew after each situation they faced together and Walter and Patel’s evolving relationship filled the show with banter and a hint of romance.
Anna Bobok’s rendition of the character, Annabella Schmidt, was one of the most memorable performances in the play. Her dramatized German accent and exaggerated collapses had the audience laughing as she kept uttering a few words, but then reviving herself to give another hilarious dying statement. Chris Perez’s rendition of Professor Jordan was the perfect mix of intimidating yet collected, as Hanney comes to realize that he is the true leader of The 39 Steps.
The sets, hair, makeup, and costumes were definitely accurate to the 1930s. The center set piece was very versatile in offering many settings where the characters traveled. The crew did an amazing job with the technical aspects of the performance, without any hiccups in sound effects or microphones.
Upper Merion High School’s production of The 39 Steps was an incredible feat that they executed with dignity and mirth, drawing in the audience as the uncovered the mystery of the spy organization.