Hitchcock Farce Promises Wit and Theatrics

            It’s a play with plot twists in every scene. A devastating fire cascades into domino affects too numerous to list. A mysterious woman ends up murdered. A presumed spy becomes a hunted man. And then there are romantic entanglements, roaming assassins and police investigations. At the core of it all lies a top-secret invention that won’t be given away here.

The jolly farce in question is Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” with a preview performance on Sept. 25 and the traditional champagne opening on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Something of a departure from the theater’s past line up of comediennes, solo performers impersonating dead composers and nuns of less-than-pious humor, “The 39 Steps” suggests the Playhouse is finding its own programming footing again.

“I first saw the play in London and then in Los Angeles and was impressed by its full-bodied production filling the stage with farce and drama,” said Ann E. Wareham, artistic director of the Playhouse. “It’s a show that I have wanted to bring here for a couple of seasons.”

It’s an abiding mystery how Kevin Bigger directs a cast of four — actors Dan Fenaughty, Jackie Schram, Nicholas Pauling and Toby Shaw — in a performance featuring altogether 150 characters. “It’s so much fun to see the transformation of characters at rapid fire, the display of inventiveness filling the stage with comedic farce and impressions that can be more lasting or just fleeting,” added Wareham.

Billed as “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps,” the show opened on Broadway in 2008 and as its longest-running comedy, winning two Tonys and an Olivier award after being adapted by Patrick Barlow for the stage from the 1935 Hitchcock film.

“The 39 Steps is a brilliant choice for the Playhouse. It covers all the bases starting with humor, and you don’t have to love Hitchcock to love this play,” said Marek Cantor, a San Juan Capistrano music teacher involved as a producer in the original Broadway show. She raised $100,000 to produce her first Broadway show by convincing 10 people to pledge $10,000 over three weeks.

After successful stints on the New York stage and a residence in Santa Barbara, she relocated to south-county. Her mother, Janice Johnson, 76, is a Laguna Beach resident.


Wareham and Laguna Playhouse executive director Karen Wood credit an ingenious staff for realizing the opportunity to bring off a challenging production involving a touring company that, even though versed in their material, still rehearses at the Playhouse. “It’s a big show but everything has lined up even though we no longer have a production center,” said Wood, referring to offsite rehearsal space and set production facilities eliminated several years ago to save money.

The previous show on the Playhouse stage, “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns,” required a fully realized set. “We are on a roll with large and substantial production values and are getting into rhythm in producing shows from the ground up,” said Wood.

Elizabeth Pearson, director of development added: “The play shows a new direction for the Playhouse and helps me attract a greater variety of audiences and Playhouse supporters. We are striving to become the perfect performing arts center for South Orange County,” she said.


“Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps,” at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd.

Preview performances: Sept. 25-28 at 8 p.m. Opening: Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 21. Tickets: $31-$65.  www.lagunaplayhouse.com   949-497-2787

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